Alpharetta, Georgia – Your body is intricately designed and all the pieces work together for optimum health. This is especially important, and true, for the structures in your body that are located close to each other and that have similar anatomical functions. So how exactly can your nose affect how your mouth works?
“I see many patients who don’t realize how intimately related the mouth and nose truly are,” says Alpharetta orthodontist Dr. Nima Hajibaik. “I liken it to a two-story home, where the oral cavity is the lower floor and the nose the top. If things aren’t working properly on the top floor, those issues will trickle down to the bottom floor.”
Millions of Americans suffer from temporomandibular disorders that result in problems with the patient’s jaw, jaw joint, and the surrounding muscles that control chewing, opening, and closing the jaw. TMD disorders are often labeled as TMJ, which stands for temporomandibular joint. While the abbreviation TMJ literally refers to the joint itself, it is also used to refer to disorders that affect the joint, as well. Everyone has two of these joints, located on either side of the head, just in front of the ears.
There is evidence to suggest that when children suffer from breathing problems that result in mouth breathing, such as those caused by allergies, this can affect the growth of the entire head and neck region. And that can result in both TMD pain and sleep apnea as they grow into adults. If the anatomy has not grown properly, how can it be expected to work properly?
Additionally, nasal obstruction and mouth breathing can result in lower oxygen saturation of a patient’s blood, which can predispose a patient to either depression or lethargy. And if that patient already experiences temporomandibular misalignment, this can create a systematic TMD patient who presents with pain.
So how do dentists and orthodontists treat TMD?
“Every patient must be treated individually,” says Dr. Hajibaik, who also performs surgical orthodontics for Johns Creek patients. “Every patient who visits my office, whether there for standard orthodontics treatment such as braces, or for TMD treatment, needs to have an individualized treatment plan created just for him or her. Treating patients with the same treatment over and over again fails to take into account the individual issues that may be affecting that patient.”
First, it is important for patients to understand the symptoms to see if their issues may be the result of TMD. Patients experience pain in the jaw, along with pain, ringing, or stuffiness in the ears. Frequent headaches and neck aches can occur, along with clicking or popping of the jaw. Patients may experience jaw muscle spasms or even locked jaw, or limited opening of the mouth. Additionally, there can be a change in the way the top and bottom teeth are aligned. To properly treat TMD, some patients may need to see multiple specialists. In addition to your dentist or orthodontist, patients may also need to see their primary care provider and an ear, nose and throat, specialist.
During an examination, your orthodontist or dentist will determine if you have a poor bite or alignment of teeth. They will feel your jaw and muscles to determine if you have any tenderness and locate areas on your head that might be sensitive or painful. They will also check to see if your teeth slide from side to side and observe the jaw as it opens and shuts. X-rays or MRIs will also be taken.
The treatments used to correct TMD are as varying as the patients who are affected by it. Some patients may find relief by learning to stretch, relax and massage their jaw muscles, or by refraining from unnecessarily working their jaw (such as chewing gum). Other patients may find heat or cold therapy helps, while others may increase their exercise to reduce stress in their lives.
But for other patients, they may require additional treatment, such as the use of mouth guards while they sleep. This is especially true for patients whose TMD may be brought on by grinding and clenching their teeth at night.
Orthodontists like Dr. Hajibaik can use orthodontic treatment, once pain relief has been achieved, to create long-term stability and function for their patients. Splints can be created to unload the jaw joint, which will relieve pain. For patients with severe TMD, their orthodontist may need to work in conjunction with their ENT to ensure proper functionality of the jaw, along with ear, nose and throat.
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