Today, in nearly every field of medicine, new and innovative therapies emerge that change lives for the better. But, over time, however, unanticipated complications can arise. Aligner therapy to move teeth (dominated by the brand Invisalign ®) is one such innovation. It turns out aligner therapy can trigger jaw problems.
Invisalign® & Aligner Therapy Move Teeth In Remarkable Ways
The use of clear aligners as an alternative to traditional braces has transformed how tooth movement is accomplished. Aligners are effective and practically invisible. That makes them an excellent choice if you don’t love the idea of walking around with a mouth full of brackets and wires for months or years.
There’s another reason that these invisible braces are so popular. Dentists, who in the past did not offer tooth movement services, can provide them.
Jaw Problems Can (At Times) Be Triggered By Aligner Therapy
As a TMJ doctor, I see patients with jaw problems that have been triggered by aligner therapy. Common symptoms are jaw muscle and joint pain, jaw clicking, locking, and headaches.
Patients whose jaw problems were triggered by their aligners tend to fall into two distinct categories:
1. People who never before had a TMJ problem.
2. People who previously had TMJ problems sometime in the distant past and experienced a re-emergence during aligner therapy.
Here’s How Aligner Therapy Can Trigger Jaw Problems
In my experience (and my colleagues may dispute this), the common theme when aligner therapy triggers jaw problems has to do with patients biting down on the aligners.
Many people tend to bite-down hard on their aligners for hours at a time during the day. They don’t necessarily do it on purpose. Still, the result is that the upper and lower aligners are in contact for hours at a time.
Why Is It A Problem To Bite-Down On Your Aligners?
The natural rest position of your jaw is upper and lower teeth apart and nothing but air between them. When you bite-down for a length of time beyond what is necessary to eat, for example, you disrupt the natural tone of your jaw muscles. Over time, jaw symptoms can emerge.
If your top and bottom aligners are in contact with each other for long periods, your jaw muscles are in a non-stop state of contraction. To illustrate, imagine how it would feel to make a fist with your hand for hours. Muscle soreness and pain would likely occur. Your jaw muscles work the same way.
In some patients, their jaw joints (TMJs) become so overloaded that they experience joint clicking and popping and even at times a locked jaw, often accompanied by pain.
Luckily, not every patient who bites-down on aligners develops jaw problems. But, if you notice that you tend to bite-down on your aligners and that your jaws are sore and joints making noise, you should consider taking a break for a while until the symptoms go away.
If you experienced TMJ problems in the past and your aligners have triggered your jaw problems to resurface, aligner therapy is probably not for you.
Note: Some practitioners recommend that their patients bite-down on the aligners for the teeth to move more quickly. If that has been recommended to you, please ask your dentist if it is necessary. It’s smarter to slow down your aligner therapy and avoid jaw problems that may not go away once treatment ends.
The Bottom Line
If you previously suffered from TMJ problems, it’s critical to inform your dentist about it before you begin aligner therapy. If you are in the process of aligner therapy and have started to notice jaw clicking, locking, or pain, please stop wearing your aligners and speak to your dentist immediately.
Everyone wants a beautiful smile, and the miracle of Invisalign® and aligner therapy is an excellent choice. However, it can also trigger jaw problems that may require long-term care.
Be an informed patient so you can make the right choice for you.