Dr. Sarno and My Approach to TMD
August 3, 2017 — by Betsy Kent

Dr. Sarno and My Approach to TMD, Donald Tanenbaum


On June 23, 2017, Dr. John Sarno passed away at the age of 93. A controversial figure in mind/body medicine as it relates to back pain, Dr. Sarno explored the connection between the mind, emotions and back pain. He was a truly a pioneer. He challenged his medical colleagues to consider the uncomfortable notion that the majority of back pain sufferers were in trouble not because of structural flaws in their backs, but rather a result of muscle tension.

Dr. Sarno felt strongly that back pain results from what he called TMS – Tension Myositis Syndrome – which was a direct result of “internal rage” driven by life’s conflicts, unrealized dreams, childhood traumas, uncontrolled tension stressors, and other factors that could persistently upset the brain. His theory was this: when an upset brain turns on the body’s sympathetic nervous system, the blood flow to muscles and nerves is reduced and causes mild oxygen deprivation. The result is pain in the back muscles.

An obituary in The New York Times states: “Revered by some as a saint and dismissed by others as a quack, Dr. Sarno maintained that most non-traumatic instances of chronic pain – including back pain, gastrointestinal disorders, headaches, and fibromyalgia – are physical manifestations of deep-seated psychological anxieties.

Despite his detractors, Dr. Sarno had many supporters in the medical community who conducted research in an effort to lend science to his assertions. In a 2007 study led by University of Southern California Professor David Schechter, it was found that chronic pain subjects who underwent mind/body treatment (reading educational materials, journaling about emotions, and in more extreme cases, undergoing psychotherapy) experienced an average pain reduction of 52 percent.

Dr. Sarno and My Approach to TMD

I met Dr. Sarno a number of times and attended many of his lectures, which were open to the public. Many of the principles he embraced resonated with me when I carefully considered the population of TMD sufferers who were coming to my practice seeking pain relief.

Over the years I discovered that when a patient’s jaw and orofacial pain was not due to an identifiable trauma, major structural imbalances, or an underlying medical disorder, the patient’s problem was likely of muscle origin and due to overuse fatigue. With a bit of investigation, overuse fatigue was usually due to daytime acquired behaviors such as nail and cuticle biting, jaw muscle bracing, frequent daytime tooth contact, tooth clenching, raised shoulders, furrowed brows, tense lips, or strained fast paced chest breathing. 

In reality, the same life scenarios that Dr. Sarno identified in his back pain patients were often characteristic of my TMD patients. At times these personal conflicts would also be responsible for restless and fragmented sleep and the onset of sleep bruxism activity, further adding to muscle overuse and fatigue.

What is critical to realize, however, is that by the time patients arrive at my practice looking for help,  tissue injury has already occurred due to physiologic changes in the jaw and neck muscles – and sometimes the temporomandibular joints. As a result, not only is it critical to make the mind body connections, but the majority of patients we see are engaged in assistive therapies that may include exercises, physical therapy, and or injections for the compromised muscles and or Tm joints.

For unclear reasons, Dr. Sarno rejected all assistive therapies such as massage, physical therapy, acupuncture, and injection techniques. This is where he and I differ in philosophy. In the book “Doctor, Why Does My Face Still Ache?” which I co-authored with my mentor, Seymour Roistacher, DDS, we carefully outline what I think leads to compromises in the temporomandibular system and why, therefore, the use of additive therapies makes sense if healing is to be achieved.

In the process of understanding each TMD sufferer that I treat, I strongly feel that the most important question I ultimately ask is this:

Who are you?”

It’s only then I can begin to unravel the mysteries of each patient’s persistent orofacial pain and TMJ problems.

Artwork from www.ThankYouDrSarno.org

Click here to read the 2007 University of Southern California study.

Click here for Dr. Sarno’s obituary in The New York Times. 

Teeth Grinding in Children, Adolescents, and Teens
May 22, 2017 — by Dr. Donald Tanenbaum

Teeth grinding is the first thing that parents think of when they discover signs of wear on their children’s teeth. And while teeth grinding in children, adolescents, and teens is common (which I’ll explain later in this article), it is not always the reason that teeth become worn. In many cases, frequent consumption of highly acidic beverages is what causes tooth wear in young people.

To understand why acidic beverages cause tooth destruction, it’s important to know what pH means.pH is the measure of the acidity and alkalinity of a liquid. The more acidic a liquid, the more damaging it is to your teeth.

Acidic beverages such as soda pop break can down tooth enamel, which is the outer protective coating of your teeth. When tooth enamel breaks down, dentin, the underlying tooth material, is exposed. Because dentin wears down six times faster than enamel, daily exposure to acidic beverages can cause enormous damage to teeth.

Most of the popular beverages in the U.S. are highly acidic, as you can see from the chart below. Sadly, these are also the beverages most preferred by young people. To make matters worse, it’s common for them to vigorously swish beverages from side to side in their mouths before swallowing, making the potential for tooth destruction even more probable.


Teeth Grinding in Children, Adolescents & Teens Donald Tanenbaum


When parents who are concerned about their children’s worn teeth come to my office, the first thing I look for is signs of highly developed and bulky jaw muscles. That is the hallmark of teeth grinding and clenching. If I don’t see those signs, then frequent acid exposure is most likely to be the cause.

Teeth Grinding in Children, Adolescents, and Teens

Teeth grinding in children, adolescents, and teens causes a different type of destruction. Grinding and clenching produces frictional wear as opposed to the erosion of tooth enamel caused by acid.

Grinding and clenching behavior usually occurs during sleep and, because of that, is called sleep bruxism. Sleep bruxism affects approximately 5%-10% of young people, and the number is growing.  

The underlying reasons for teeth grinding in children, adolescents, and teens remains unclear, but we believe it is likely to be related to fragmented sleep accompanied by frequent brain arousals. The cause can include (but is not limited to) insomnia, generalized states of daily anxiety, medications such as those used to treat AHD/ADHD, and obstructed breathing due to large tonsils, and/or small lower jaw profiles.

If you’ve noticed your children’s teeth are showing signs of wear, such as chips (or if they’re beginning to look smaller), it’s important to see your dentist as soon as possible. If acidic beverages are the cause of the problems, until that risk factor is addressed, the potential for excessive tooth destruction will go unchecked – and likely lead to extensive dental in the future.

Remember, the best beverage is water!

Can Lyme Disease Cause TMJ?
May 10, 2017 — by Dr. Donald Tanenbaum

can lyme disease cause TMJ, TMJ, donald tanenbaum, tmj doctor nyc

(I’m a dentist with a unique focus – I treat people who suffer from jaw problems associated with the temporomandibular joints – commonly known as TMJ.)

Today’s blog deals with this question:

Can Lyme disease cause TMJ?

Starting in the early 90’s many patients have visited my office exhibiting all the common symptoms of TMJ – jaw pain, limited jaw opening, and severe facial pain. Upon evaluation of these patients, however, I did not find the common histories and risk factors that typically cause the muscle strain and inflammation associated with TMJ problems.

For example, in 1992 I treated a patient named John. John was a 38-year-old landscape gardener who worked at a golf course on the east end of Long Island. His complaints were acute jaw pain, limited jaw opening, and an inability to bring his teeth together in a consistent way.

At first glance it seemed that John had the type of jaw problems that I see every day in my office and I prescribed the treatment that helps most of my patients. But it didn’t help him. One year later I heard from another patient that John had been diagnosed with Lyme disease.

It was then that I began to wonder: “Can Lyme disease cause TMJ symptoms?”

Lyme disease infects over 300,000 people in the United States every year. But making a diagnosis is extremely difficult due to the fact that the only blood tests available are unpredictable. On top of that, only 25-50% of infected people ever develop the telltale rash associated with a deer tick bite (the tick that carries Lyme).

If left untreated Lyme can cause facial tics (contraction and twitching of muscles), jaw pain, headaches in the temples, neck stiffness, and episodes of pain during talking and smiling.

Here’s another example: A recent patient named Anne. She is a 52-year old female. She describes her symptoms this way: “I have pain in my face that can be so intense that I have thought about going out on disability.”

Ann’s pain is triggered whenever she talks. And her jaw muscles feel as if they’re “pulling all the time”. At times her teeth ache. And when the frames of her glasses press on her temples, the pain escalates. Anne’s facial and jaw symptoms have been present for seven months and are accompanied by exhaustion, disabling headaches, and what she describes as “bizarre sensations in my body”.

As with John, my evaluation did not suggest the reason for Anne’s suffering was a typical TMJ problem. But evaluations don’t always indicate Lyme, either. Due to the fact that she takes long walks in the Connecticut woods and because she remembers getting bitten by insects (she never had the telltale rash) her infectious disease doctor has considered starting her on antibiotic therapy for Lyme disease.

Another patient named Sue, a 45-year old female, came in with jaw problems, too. She had been diagnosed with Lyme disease seven years earlier. Sue felt sure that her Lyme had been “successfully treated with alternative remedies.” But still, she suffers from tight jaw muscles, intense pain when she lays her face on a pillow, fragile emotions that prompt daily outbursts of crying, and “raging pain in my face and jaw”. She was sure she had TMJ but never imagined that the effects of Lyme disease cause TMJ symptoms.

Sue also suffers from bouts of intense back pain with a nerve-like character, that comes on suddenly and as quickly passes.

As noted, Sue believes that her Lyme disease has already been “cured” by alternative remedies. But as in the cases of John and Anne, my evaluation provided no evidence of the typical causes of TMJ symptoms. With her belief in alternative treatments, it is no surprise that Anne is very reluctant to try antibiotic therapy. But she is about ready to move in that direction.

The outcome of the two recent cases remains to be determined, but they are very similar to many other confirmed cases of Lyme disease I have encountered since 1992 when I first began to wonder if can Lyme disease cause TMJ symptoms. 

It is my conclusion, therefore, that the impact of Lyme disease on the peripheral and central nervous systems can produce nerve and muscle pain that mimics the symptoms of TMJ. I am hopeful that better testing, control of the deer tick population, more effective treatments, and even perhaps a vaccine is on the horizon for these suffering patients. 

If you would like to add your comments please feel free to do so below.

TMJ From Scuba Diving Or Snorkeling
February 27, 2017 — by Dr. Donald Tanenbaum

tmj from scuba diving, michael sinkin dds

During this time of year it is common for my practice to see many patients who experience symptoms of TMJ from scuba diving or snorkeling. In fact, it has been reported that between 15%-20% of the people who scuba dive or snorkel have some level of jaw problem.

To find out why, you first must understand the temporomandibular joints (TM’s) and how they function. Your TMJs are the hinges that connect your upper jaw to your lower jaw. They enable you to open and close your mouth in a smooth, unrestricted way. When functioning properly, your TMJ’s allow you to chew, talk, and yawn in comfort.

But because the TMJ’s are moved by muscles and stabilized by ligaments, any problem with those muscles and ligaments will have a negative effect on the function of your jaw and your comfort. People whose TMJs are overworked may experience pain, limited jaw opening, joint noises and sometimes even a change in the way their teeth come together. The symptoms are very similar to an overworked knee.

TMJ From Scuba Diving Or Snorkeling Is Very Common. Here’s Why:

Whether you scuba dive or snorkel, your lower jaw must come forward to secure your breathing mouthpiece in place. It’s a very awkward position and when held for a long period of time, it fatigues your muscles and strains your ligaments. The result can be soreness, pain and limited jaw function.

New divers are at the greatest risk for TMJ from scuba diving or snorkeling. The novice has a tendency to fiercely grip down on the mouthpiece for fear of it slipping out of place. This forceful clenching can set jaw problems into motion. And a poorly fitted mouthpiece is often a culprit, too.

Prevention & Treatment of TMJ from Scuba Diving Or Snorkeling

If you are a new or inexperienced diver here’s some advice: try to maintain a loose grip on your mouthpiece and always make sure it fits properly. (If you suspect it doesn’t…don’t use it! Trade it in ASAP.) If mild symptoms start to occur, don’t dive for a day or two. Try anti-inflammatory medications such as Advil or Aleve, if tolerated. And ice packs on painful areas for seven minutes several times a day can also help.

If experience severe symptoms and just a day or two off from diving doesn’t improve your condition, you should see a dentist who focuses on temporomandibular disorder. TMJ is the result of tired, tight, injured or sore muscles, inflamed tendons, or compromised ligaments, bone and cartilage. As a result, TMJ treatment is similar to what is offered by an orthopedist when managing a knee problem.

Here are some of the ways we treat patients with TMJ from scuba diving or snorkeling at my practice:

  • Limiting the overuse of the jaw by dietary restrictions
  • Identifying strategies to reduce daytime habits that may prevent healing such as clenching, nail and cuticle biting, gum chewing
  • Medications to reduce inflammation and muscle tension
  • Supporting the injured joints or muscles with an oral appliance
  • Home jaw exercises and self massage of jaw muscles 
  • Physical therapy if needed
  • Trigger point injections for pain and tension in the jaw muscles

It’s best to avoid TMJ from scuba diving or snorkeling by taking precautions such as loosening the grip on your mouthpiece and making sure it fits properly. Stop your diving activities if symptoms start and seek care to assure healing. The vast majority of our patients do heal and happily resume their diving activities after several months.

The Connection Between Tinnitus and TMJ
November 2, 2016 — by Dr. Donald Tanenbaum

the connection between tinnitus and tmj, donald tanenbaum


My dental practice has a unique focus. The majority of our patients come to us suffering with TMJ problems. The TM joint is the hinge connecting your jaw to the temporal bones of your skull, which are in located in front of each ear. Healthy function of this joint enables you to chew, talk and yawn. When the joint is inflamed, strained or unstable it can cause pain, limited jaw motion and a variety of jaw noises during motion. When the muscles that move the TM joint are compromised, similar symptoms may result, as well.

There is a connection between tinnitus and TMJ problems, too, and we see patients in my practice looking for relief. But before I get into the explanation of how tinnitus and TMJ are linked, I want to be sure you understand the nature and causes of tinnitus itself.

The connection between tinnitus and TMJ is real.

What Is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus Definition: The annoying sensation of hearing a sound when no external sound is present. Patients describe these sounds with words such as ringing, humming, buzzing, roaring, clicking and hissing. This sensation is constant for some people and intermittent for others, and it can be in one or both ears. For some sufferers the intensity of the sounds can vary from day to day while for others it is without fluctuation in intensity.

What Causes Tinnitus?
There are many known causes of tinnitus that include identifiable damage to the inner ear hair cells, age-related hearing loss, exposure to loud noises, earwax blockage, and changes in the health of the bones in the middle ear. Less commonly, tinnitus can be associated with Meniere’s disease, trauma to the head and neck region, and/or TMJ disorders. For some people, however, the cause is never discovered.

What Is The Connection Between Tinnitus And TMJ problems?
TMJ problems are essentially orthopedic in nature. The common symptoms of TMJ are many and can include pain in the jaw muscles or specifically in the jaw joints, limited jaw motion, jaw muscle tension and tightness, jaw joint clicking, popping and or locking, headache pain in the temples, and/or a bite that doesn’t feel normal. Tinnitus is a less common symptom. When TMJ problems, however, affect the ear, symptoms can be pain, stuffiness, and/or tinnitus.

The onset of these symptoms may be due to underlying medical disorders, emotional stress which drives muscle tension, disrupted sleep, traumatic events, periods of sustained jaw opening, sleep bruxism, and daily overuse behaviors and or neck postures. All of these factors can result in joint sprains, muscle strains, muscle spasm and /or inflammation.  Less common origins include a “bad bite.”

connection between tinnitus and tmj, donald tanenbaum











Why TMJ Problems Can Lead To Tinnitus (Or Make It Worse)
1. The nerves that serve the jaw muscles and jaw joint are also responsible for the function and tone of muscles that determine the size of the Eustachian tube and tone of the tympanic membrane. Alterations in the function of these two structures can be responsible for tinnitus.

2. There is one specific ligament connecting a middle ear bone (the malleus) to the jawbone.  When a TMJ problem changes the position of the lower jaw the malleus can be altered in its function due to ligamentous traction and that can lead to tinnitus.

3. The main nerve supply from the TM Joint has been shown to have connections to parts of the brain involved with hearing and the interpretation of sound. If TMJ problems alter the function of this nerve, it‘s quite possible that the brain will interpret normal sounds as abnormal and patients report tinnitus.

4. Worth mentioning is that because TMJ problems are often associated with neck problems, evaluations of the neck must be also part of an overall assessment. There is evidence that nerve endings in the neck make connections to the hearing centers of the brain. Ear symptoms therefore, have been shown to emerge as a result of long-standing neck problems or those created by acute trauma.

Determining If A TMJ Problem Is Driving Tinnitus Symptoms
Try to determine if your tinnitus symptoms are influenced by moving your jaw (chewing, yawning, talking, opening it widely, sticking it forward). It you notice a link, then it’s very possible that TMJ problems are at the root of your tinnitus. The same is true for head and neck movements.

TMJ Neck Treatment To Help Tinnitus
If your tinnitus is related to your jaw or neck, dealing with these problems will be very helpful. There are a host of treatment strategies available including reducing overuse behaviors and or postures (such as teeth grinding, nail biting, frequent computer work), exercises, home TENS therapy, muscle injections or dry needling techniques, Botox, the use of oral appliances to support your jaw joints and jaw muscles (especially at night), physical therapy, medications, meditation, mindfulness training, and diaphragmatic breathing instruction.

These treatments, if found to be helpful, may require several weeks or months to see maximum results.

As I mentioned before, tinnitus can be caused by damage to your inner ear, hearing loss, exposure to loud noises, earwax blockage, and more. If your doctor has not found a link between your symptoms to any of the above, it may be time for an assessment of your jaw and neck structures. There may, indeed, be a connection between your tinnitus and TMJ problems.

Here’s a directory of orofacial pain professionals around the world: American Academy of Orofacial Pain.

You can get more information about TMJ and ear problems here: TMJ and its Relationship to Ear Problems and Sinus Symptoms


Dr. Donald Tanenbaum is a dentist with offices in New York City and Long Island, NY. He is uniquely qualified to diagnose and treat facial pain associated with jaw problemsTMJreferred painnerve pain, and migraines. You can contact the office here.

Botox Injections For TMJ – 6 Things You Need To Know
October 6, 2016 — by Dr. Donald Tanenbaum

botox injections for tmj, dr donald tanenbaum, tmj doctor nyc

During the past few years in my practice as a dentist who focuses primarily on TMJ and orofacial pain problems, I have seen a lot of success using Botox injections for TMJ to treat muscle pain and oral nerve pain.

Botox is not suitable for every patient, however. Care must be taken as to when to use it, how to use it, and who is a good candidate. If you’re considering Botox as part of your treatment for TMJ problems, jaw pain, pain in or around your teeth, or because of a change in the shape of your jaw, please read on:

6 Important Things You Need To Know About Botox Injections For TMJ

  1. Botox is Not a First-Line Treatment for Jaw Muscle Pain
    First-line treatment for jaw muscle pain (and spasm or tightness) is dictated by a careful evaluation to identify why you have symptoms in the first place. For example, it may be necessary for you to change some daytime habits, postures and behavioral tendencies that fatigue the jaw and neck muscles.Or if you clench or grind your teeth at night you may need to wear a protective night guard. In addition, you may get relief from medications, home jaw and neck exercises, breathing exercises, meditation, a change in your diet, or all of the above.Muscle injections or dry needling would be next in line along with visits to a physical therapist, chiropractor or osteopath who would work to promote muscle comfort. The bottom line, however, is that you the patient, must participate in the process of getting better and Botox will not produce the desired goals if the underlying reasons for your pain have not been identified and dealt with.
  2. Botox Will Not Ease Certain Types Of Muscle Pain
    There are times when muscles hurt even though they have not been overused. When life circumstances, emotions or thoughts cause your muscles to tighten and ultimately ache, then Botox injections for TMJ will not likely help. Instead, counseling, talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and the like may be the right strategies to pursue.
  3. If You Currently Wear a Night Guard
    If you currently wear a night guard and still have morning symptoms of muscle pain or tightness, joint noises, locking, and/or pain, you may be a good candidate for Botox. This is particularly true if you find yourself biting hard on the guard when you wake up in the morning. Keep in mind however, that Botox will be most helpful if you continue to wear your night guard. Two strategies are better than one in this scenario.
  4. If You Can’t Tolerate A Night Guard
    If you have simply cannot tolerate a night guard (and have tried various types, with your dentist’s guidance) Botox injections for TMJ may provide meaningful benefit.
  5. If Your Jaw Muscles Are Too Big
    If your jaw muscles are just too big and visibly over-built, Botox may be an option. One of the predictable things that Botox does is reduce muscle bulk when used over time. Botox has been shown to be effective in producing a flatter and more natural-looking profile.You will likely need three Botox sessions in three-month intervals to achieve the best results. However, jaw bulk may creep back if the reasons your muscles become larger have not been identified and dealt with.
  6. If You Experience Persistent Oral Nerve Pain
    Small quantities of Botox may be helpful if you experience persistent pain in your gum tissue, at the site of a tooth or tooth extraction, or at other sites around your face. Nerve pain inside your mouth or in your face is often due to electrical discharge from the trigeminal nerve. Botox injections for TMJ into the painful sites (often called trigger zones) can provide real benefit, especially if you don’t respond well to oral medications. In spite of being relatively new, this type of treatment is showing promise.

In Conclusion

Botox has become a helpful component in the management of TMJ, jaw muscle pain and oral nerve pain problems. The important thing for you, the patient, is to understand that Botox injections for TMJ are not a cure-all. Careful assessment by an experienced practitioner remains the key to making treatment decisions that will result in a long-term positive outcome. If you choose Botox as first-line therapy without understanding the origins of your pain, you will likely be out of pocket quite a bit of money with nothing to show for it.

Related reading:


Dr. Donald Tanenbaum is a dentist with offices in New York City and Long Island, NY. He is uniquely qualified to diagnose and treat problems associated with facial pain, TMJ and sleep apnea. To make an appointment for a consultation, call: Manhattan: 212-265-0110, Nassau & Suffolk counties: 631-265-3136.


Can Braces Cause TMJ?
September 20, 2016 — by Dr. Donald Tanenbaum

can braces cause tmj, donald tanenbaum, temporomandibular
TMJ problems can be a real burden that leads to pain, limitations on eating and embarrassing jaw joint noises. In my practice as a dentist who focuses primarily on TMJ and jaw problems, patients often ask me, “Can braces cause TMJ?” Although there’s no easy answer, I’ll do my best to explain.

Can Braces Cause TMJ? Three Scenarios

If you’re concerned that braces are the cause of your jaw issue, you’ll likely fit into one of the following three scenarios:

Scenario 1: You finished orthodontic treatment less than a year ago and suddenly you have TMJ symptoms.

Let’s give this scenario some thought as there may be some concerns about what we call new bite relationships. Think about this: your teeth have been moved and have had to settle-in to new positions. That means your jaw muscles, tendons, joint ligaments, cartilage, bones, lubricating systems, and shock-absorbing disc all had to adapt to the new environment. Thankfully, most people experience no problems with this process.

But in some people the end orthodontic result can lead to asymmetric tooth contacts or tooth contact patterns that force the lower jaw into an awkward position when the teeth are brought together. Therefore, the jaw is consistently forced into postural positions while chewing that lead to sprains and strains. If this scenario occurs in a person who has daytime behaviors that prompt tooth contact or who has a history of night clenching or grinding, these awkward bite postures will have a greater impact and can lead to even more severe TMJ symptoms than are caused by the behaviors themselves.

If you fit into Scenario 1, the answer to the question, can braces cause TMJ? is Yes! You should to return to the orthodontist or dentist who moved your teeth. There’s a chance that to “shore up the foundation” a short phase of orthodontics or some dental procedures to provide more tooth contact symmetry can do the trick. If you don’t feel your complaints are being taken seriously, a second opinion is recommended.

In addition, you may need change your daytime over-use behaviors such as teeth grinding or clenching, wear a protective oral appliance at night, and perform jaw exercises. It’s important to identify any other risk factors that could play a role, as well. (See a list at the end of this post.)

Scenario 2: You have braces now and your TMJ problems just began.

Regardless of whether your braces are the traditional or the Invisalign-type removable aligners, if you experience occurrences of pain (beyond what’s expected during orthodontics) or joint noises and/or locking, you must report your symptoms to your orthodontist or the dentist providing your treatment. Your braces might not need to be removed, but instead adjusted to make sure your jaw is no longer stressed.(Also, it is important to be sure that the orthodontic process is not being compromised by outside factors, such as those that are listed at the end of this post.

Scenario 3: You had braces, but they were removed many years before your TMJ problems began.

Can braces cause TMJ if they were removed years ago? It’s unlikely that braces removed years before your jaw symptoms first started could be the primary or exclusive cause of TMJ. In fact, the vast majority of studies conclude that even if one’s bite is “off” for decades (one’s natural bite or an orthodontically-created bite) there is little chance this single factor is the cause of TMJ problems.

If your long-ago removed braces are not the primary reason you have TMJ, then what is? Something clearly has happened, likely over a long period of time that caused fatigue and overworked, sprained, or traumatized your jaw muscles and joints.

If you were my patient, I would conduct a full assessment and start by asking you some very important questions that fall into four distinct groups:

1. Did You Have An Injury?
The TMJs and associated jaw muscles can be injured the same way knee or elbow structures can. Were you injured on the athletic field or in a car accident? Did you have a recent medical procedure that kept your mouth open for a long period of time or in an awkward position? Did you notice sudden jaw pain or popping while eating, yawning, playing a musical instrument, or even singing? Did you recently have dental work performed or a challenging wisdom tooth removal that could have compromised your jaw structures?

2. Do You Over-Stress Your Jaw?
Over-use behaviors and head postures can impact the structure and stability of your jaw muscles and temporomandibular joints (your TMJs). Do you chew gum or bite your nails, cuticles, or pens? Do you hold your eyeglass frames between your teeth? Do you grind or clench your teeth at night and/or during the day? Do you have work-related neck strain? Do you have longstanding neck symptoms that include pain and muscle tightness?

3. Has Your Health Changed?
Changes in the your medical health can also be a source of challenge to your jaw. Are you on a new medication? Have you stopped smoking? Do you have a new neuromuscular, rheumatologic and/or autoimmune disease? Are you profoundly depressed or have anxiety? Have you been diagnosed with a chronic illness? Do you have problematic insomnia, migraines or fatigue? Have you changed your diet to one that requires more consistent chewing of tougher foods? Even merely being concerned about your health is sufficient to initiate jaw muscle tension and pain.

4. Are You Stressed-Out?
A fatigued, conflicted, and unhappy brain is a source of muscle tension and can have a negative impact on your nervous and immune system. That can lead to a lower threshold of pain. Do you have ongoing challenges at home and or at work? Are you caring for a sick child or parent? Is your marriage in trouble? Are there financial worries? The list of critical life matters that can cause changes in the way you sleep, breath and hold muscle tension throughout your body are endless. Any of these changes can cause jaw-related symptoms.

If you answered yes to any of the above, your TMJ symptoms are likely the cause of a number of factors. It is crucially important to discuss these with the orthodontist or dentist who is handling your case.

So, the answer to the question, “Can braces cause TMJ?” is “Yes, sometimes!”

If you are considering braces for yourself or your children, inform the dentist or orthodontist of any jaw problems before you start treatment. A thoughtful practitioner will make a careful assessment of the history and clinical characteristics of every patient before determining how to proceed.


For more information on TMJ and jaw pain, link here:
Temporomandibular Disorder
Jaw Problems


Is It TMJ or Fibromyalgia?
July 21, 2016 — by Dr. Donald Tanenbaum

Is it TMJ or Fibromyalgia, donald tanenbaum, tmj

The majority of patients in my practice arrive complaining of TMJ pain. For many their pain is over the jaw joints. While others complain of pain only in their jaw muscles. These separate, but related, pain sites represent the components of a true TMJ pain problem. In fact, whether the pain is focused over the joints or in the muscles, it’s almost always the result of very specific factors such as teeth clenching or grinding during the night or day, daytime behaviors such as nail or cuticle biting, poor sleep, strained respiration, and/or chronic stress and challenging life circumstances.

I do see many patients, however, who experience severe pain in the jaw and face, but who display no evidence of common risk factors typical in the patients who have TMJ pain due to a temporomandibular disorder. For these patients, their pain is real but the cause is different. A very large percentage of them have a diagnosis of fibromyalgia in their medical history.

Is it TMJ or Fibromyalgia?

Although a full understanding of fibromyalgia remains unclear, fibromyalgia patients typically have a very low threshold of pain throughout their entire body. The best analogy is to imagine what it feels like to put on a shirt when your back has been burned from multiple days at the beach. That’s what it’s like to have fibromyalgia. All the time.

As a result common activities such as chewing, yawning, talking, or even putting their face on a pillow produces face and or jaw pain. This daily pain may often leads them to brace the jaw muscles and fatigue them. This can result in motion limitation and thus mimics a common TMJ problem.

Treatment strategies for fibromyalgia patients are markedly different than for typical TMJ patients.

When I work with typical TMJ patients I can isolate the factors that caused their problems in the first place and then help to control them. But if you are a fibromyalgia patient, it is much more challenging to manage your face and jaw pain. Treatment must focus on helping you acquire higher pain thresholds.

Through research we’ve discovered that meditation, diaphragmatic breathing, restorative yoga, exercises, a positive outlook on life, and even laughter can all be beneficial for fibromyalgia patients. In addition, certain medications show promise – particularly those designed to enhance your own pain inhibitory systems by helping restore and/or bolster levels of serotonin and endorphins. Injections of Botox coupled with frequent jaw motion exercises also show promise for specific jaw muscle pain in fibromyalgia patients.

In summary, facial pain symptoms are not always the same and require careful assessment before conclusions are reached with regards to  diagnosis and treatment strategies. In my practice we see progress with both the common TMJ sufferer and those with jaw pain due to  fibromyalgia.

If you’re in pain and are are need to know if it is TMJ or fibromyalgia, and you live in the New York City area, please feel free to call my office for a consultation. Outside the area you can find a list of professionals through the American Academy of Orofacial Pain.

Dr. Donald Tanenbaum is a dentist with offices in New York City and Long Island, NY. He is uniquely qualified to diagnose and treat problems associated with facial painTMJ and sleep apnea.

What Is An Orofacial Dentist?
June 29, 2016 — by Dr. Donald Tanenbaum

What is an orofacial dentist


If you’ve never heard the term orofacial dentist, I’m not surprised. I’m one of only a few hundred formally trained orofacial dentists in the United States. That’s because orofacial dentists have not been terribly visible on the health care playing field. But that is changing.

Orofacial dentists like me treat patients who suffer with pain of muscle origin, joint origin, and nerve origin that is focused in the head, neck, mouth, face and jaw area. For example, we treat people who have chronic tooth and gum pain despite multiple dental evaluations and treatment. We treat very challenging problems related to the TM Joints which are characterized by pain, limited mouth opening capacity, jaw clicking and jaw locking (commonly called TMJ). Patients come to us with problematic headaches seeking additional care to complement treatment by their physicians and other health care providers. And in many cases, we see patients with pain in the nerves that supply the teeth, gums and other facial tissues.

At times we also are called upon to diagnose and or treat patients with complex medical problems that result in facial pain.

Why don’t more people know about orofacial dentists?

Because this specific area of dentistry has not been granted “specialty status” by the American Dental Association. It is specialty status programs in dental schools that enable dentists to become oral surgeons, endodontists (root canal), periodontists (gum therapies) and orthodontists (braces). Although efforts have been made at both the national and state levels to push through specialty applications for my field, success has so far been elusive.

And that’s why orofacial dentists are difficult to find. Patients who are in pain often seek advice from their primary care physicians, ENT doctors, neurologists, and oral surgeons. Sadly, these patients are often told that either “nothing is wrong” or they are provided care that falls short. That’s because all dimensions of their pain problem have not been considered.

In my office I see suffering patients who have been in pain for months (sometimes years) before they finally find their way to me.

To help our patients, orofacial dentists rely on a wide variety of treatment options including education, medication, therapeutic injections, oral appliances, and muscle and joint rehabilitation therapies. Patient education is crucially important in my field as many of the problems we treat in the jaw muscles and joints are the result of daytime jaw overuse behaviors and sleep related teeth grinding and clenching. Most orofacial dentists have a strong relationship with physical therapists, clinical psychologists, pain management physicians, psychopharmacologists, chiropractors and even acupuncturists and leaders of meditation programs. All of these together allow us to successfully care for our patients’ individual needs.

And here’s the big bonus of going to an orofacial dentist: We often validate the fact that your pain is not only real but is also helpable despite past treatment failures. I believe that just knowing that there’s an answer starts making my patients feel better right away.

I predict that in not too many years orofacial dentistry will finally achieve the specialty status it deserves. Not only will patients be better informed and have more access, but more dental students will more often choose it as their field of concentration.

If you or someone you know has been suffering you can find an orofacial dentist in your area by linking to the American Academy of Orofacial Pain at AAOP.org.

Dr. Donald Tanenbaum is a dentist with offices in New York City and Long Island, NY. He is uniquely qualified to diagnose and treat problems associated with facial painTMJ and sleep apnea.

Botox For Jaw Reduction: The Real Story
June 2, 2016 — by Dr. Donald Tanenbaum

BOTOX for jaw reduction, bettheny frankel, donald tanenbaum, tmj, bruxism

News Flash! Bettheny Frankel Explains Why Her Face Has Changed: “I Get Botox In My Jaw.”

That headline has been winding its way through the web in the past few weeks. I must admit that when I first saw it I had no idea who Ms. Frankel was (I had to ask my wife). But as an expert in jaw problems and Orofacial pain, and one that uses Botox for jaw reduction in my practice, the headline stopped me in my tracks. It’s a topic discussed at lectures and in medical journals, but I have never seen it in mentioned in mass media before.

The article goes on to explain that the reality TV star was encouraged by her dermatologist to consider getting Botox injections in her jaw. The goal was to reduce the size and shape of the jaw. It had become bulky as a result of many years of tooth grinding.

Now, if you are about to jump on the phone to your dermatologist and ask about injections of Botox for jaw reduction you need to know a few facts: 

Here’s how your jaw works: The masseter muscles (define your jaw profile) combined with the muscles in your temples and the jaw joints (the “TMJ”s) all work together to enable you to open and close your mouth. They help you to chew and to speak. But…when they are used too much all kinds of problems can occur. These problems can be sore jaw muscles, headaches in the temples, sore teeth, jaw clicking and locking, diminished jaw motion, ear pain that occurs without an ear problem being identified, and more. What’s more, the size and shape of your jawline can change.

That’s what happened to Bettheny Frankel.

While Botox has a prominent place in my arsenal of treatment methods, Botox alone cannot change the behaviors or risk factors that can cause your jaw to change shape. Botox doesn’t cure the source of the problem. In order for that to happen, you must stop overusing your jaw muscles.

For the average person over-use activities are teeth clenching and grinding. This can happen during the day (called Awake Bruxism) or at night (Sleep Bruxism). Or both.

In addition there are many daytime jaw overuse behaviors. Chewing gum, biting your nails or cuticles gnawing on a pencil, or simply clenching your teeth together will engage your muscles.  When your teeth come together, you are making a fist in your face. Imagine what can happen after hours of making that fist on a daily basis!

During sleep, teeth clenching and grinding can occur for a multitude of reason, most of which are out of your control.

Here’s the good news: Jaw over-use behaviors during the day can be changed. In addition, we continue to get better at identifying the risk factors that may be driving your sleep bruxism. Experienced TMJ/Orofacial pain dentists, like me, have gained valuable insights into these problems leading to effective treatment strategies.

The treatment options can range from natural supplements, sleep hygiene programs, prescription medications, deep breathing exercises employed during the day and before bedtime, formal meditation training, oral appliance strategies that introduce different appliance designs during the course of the week, jaw and neck exercise programs and injections. These injections can include the use of Botox.

Here’s the bottom line: Botox after several injection sessions can prevent the jaw muscles from contracting forcefully. That leads to more slender and less bulky muscles. Botox injections can return your face to its previous proportions. But, if you want long-term success Botox must be surrounded by other supportive and complementary care. Because…if you don’t stop and/or reduce your daytime jaw muscle overuse and sleep bruxism, your jaw muscles will inevitably bulk up again.

So, go ahead. Talk to your dermatologist about Botox for jaw reduction. But also get a referral to a TMJ/Orofacial pain dentist who will help you maintain your normal jawline for life.

Good luck!

Read about the various methods used to correct jaw over-use behaviors:
TMJ Treatment
Can Bruxism Change The Shape Of Your Face? 
Case Study: 10 Years of Teeth Clenching 
Can TMJ Patients Get Better?