BALTIMORE – Grinding your teeth at night is common, but in some cases it can actually break your molars in half, causing severe jaw and head pain.
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) acts like a sliding hinge, which connects your jawbone to your skull.
A night guard is the appliance most commonly prescribed by dentists but that doesn't always fix the problem and sometimes even makes the patient's pain worse.
Now, a cutting edge diagnostic tool called joint vibration analysis, JVA, is used to determine if a patient's jaw joint is damaged.
"The patient comes in and has the test done, which is simple," said Dr. Ray Becker, a dentist with Baltimore's Howard County Smiles.
"It's just two sensors that look like headphones that go onto the ears," says Dr. Becker. "There's zero discomfort. There's zero pain and within a minute, we can tell exactly what's going on with that patient's joint."
The teeth, muscles and joints should work in perfect harmony when we talk, eat, even yawn. When one is out of balance, there's pain.
"There would be mornings where I literally could not get through a two-hour long evaluation or treatment session just because it hurt so much for me to talk," said patient Laura Hyde.
"My overall quality of life is so much better," she added. "I don't wake up every morning with a headache."
For another patient, Amber Langmeier, an oral appliance made all the difference.
"I can honestly say I don't clench anymore," she said.
"For the first time, I realize how it feels to not have tight muscles and not to hold tension in my head and neck and jaw area."
With more than half the population suffering from TMJ, the JVA quick test gives patients more precise treatment options.
"I'm a strong advocate of using data and equipment and technology to get facts, so we can build our responses, diagnosis and treatments on that," said Dr. Becker.
Dr. Becker says most dentists with JVA provide it for free or at a very low cost because it's invaluable in getting to the proper diagnosis. It's just like taking your blood pressure at a regular doctor's appointment.
MAKING IT MAINSTREAM: Fewer than two percent of dentists use the joint vibration analysis test but more than half the population suffers from TMJ disorders. In a Dentistry Today article, a dental consultant is calling for the implementation of JVA into regular periodic exams. If there are no results then the patient has not lost anything, but if results show positive indicators, the patient can schedule a follow-up and potentially stop a TMJ disorder in its tracks.
If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at firstname.lastname@example.org or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at email@example.com.