Des Moines Dentist Presents—The Human Jaw: Joints and Nerves

x-ray of a jawLast week, we examined the structure of a tooth—root and crown—in the first part of a two-part series that takes you on an anatomical tour of your dental health. In this second and final installment of our tour, Des Moines dentist, Dr. Burds, explores the mechanisms that make your teeth useful by moving them, and the disorder that can inhibit the function of your jaw and cause a considerable amount of pain.

The Temporomandibular Joints

The joints that connect your lower jaw (mandible) to the temporal bones in front of your ears are called temporomandibular joints, or TMJs. As gliding joints, they’re designed to glide back and forth smoothly along their sockets, allowing your jaw to move in its many directions with ease. Malocclusion (a crooked bite), habitual teeth-grinding, traumatic damage, or any number of other issues can cause these joints to become damaged or misaligned, placing excessive stress on the muscles that control them as they struggle to keep your mouth straight.

The Trigeminal Nerve

The nerve that innervates your jaw, called the trigeminal nerve, is one of twelve groups of cranial nerves. Its three branches extend throughout most of your craniofacial structure and account for over half of the sensory input received by your brain. When your jaw’s muscles and joints are damaged, excessive tension and stress can disturb this nerve, leading to the intense discomfort associated with TMJ disorder (jaw joint dysfunction). The nerve transmits this discomfort throughout its branches, resulting in a wide variety of symptoms like chronic headaches, earaches, and neck pain that can make TMJ diagnosis difficult.

Treating Jaw Pain and Dysfunction with Your Des Moines Dentist

Because of the diversity of TMJ disorder’s symptoms, many people can endure their chronic discomfort for years before realizing it’s a dental problem (unless the discomfort includes chronic jaw pain, which can be a telltale sign). Finding relief from TMJ disorder often involves treating its root cause; for instance, if malocclusion is the source, then orthodontic treatment may be necessary to straighten your bite before relief is possible. To learn more about jaw pain and TMJ disorder, schedule a consultation with your Des Moines dentist by calling Gateway Dental Group at (515) 244-9565. Located in the 50309 area, we proudly welcome patients from Des Moines, River Bend, Kirkwood Glen, East Village, and neighboring communities.