A Cape Town dentist is one of only three in South Africa to treat patients with 'splint therapy' to heal clicking jaw, jaw ache and chronic headaches without surgery.
This latest treatment is one of the solutions offered by a limited number of dental practitioners after international medical research found that nearly 80% of the world's general population suffer from recurring headaches which impede them from carrying out normal activities.
Two joints involved
"Almost 60% of these headaches are caused by the two joints which connect the jaw with the skull. If these are out of place it can cause various problems such as clicking or popping of the joints, pain in or around the joints and locking or limited opening of the mouth," says Dr Francois Bothma, who specialises in treating dysfunctional jaw joints.
Common ailments associated with dysfunctional jaw joints are headaches, pain behind the eyes, vertigo, dizziness, nausea, ear aches, clenching or grinding of the teeth and even hearing loss.
"This can all be ascribed to the myriad of complex nerves and muscles at work when we bite on something," says Dr Bothma.
Based in Green Point, he regularly travels to Pretoria to treat patients in Gauteng. Some even fly in from KwaZulu-Natal, Namibia and Angola.
Temporo-mandibular joint dysfunction
There are only a few dentists in South Africa offering non-surgical treatment of dysfunctional jaws. They are Dr Bothma in Cape Town and Pretoria, Dr Cilliers in George and Dr De Necker in Johannesburg.
"The medical term for the problem is called temporo-mandibular joint dysfunction which describes the symptoms associated with jaw joints which are not functioning properly. It is easier to call it by its name - jaw ache or clicking jaw," says Dr Bothma.
"There is no quick-fix solution. Each patient has to be analysed individually. This includes an x-ray with a specially adapted (transcranial) X-ray machine. We then discuss the best possible treatment which includes the wearing of a plastic brace and other corrective methods," says Bothma.
Various factors involved
Misalignment of the jaws is caused by various factors. "Nobody is born perfect. Some people have an overbite of the teeth and others an underbite, in some cases this is due to injuries. The bottom line is that the muscles and nerves around the jaw and neck then work overtime to compensate for any imbalance, thus resulting in different ailments," he says.
The condition can also be treated with surgery, but can be costly and very painful and will not necessarily solve the problem as the jaws and joints may also be affected by muscular imbalances in the rest of the body. There is a dynamic interaction between the jaws and the rest of the body and the problem should be addressed in a holistic way.
Dr Bothma learnt about jaw alignment in the United Kingdom where he studied functional jaw orthopaedics for three years. He also qualified as a cranio-sacral healer in the UK. His approach to dentistry is not just to fix teeth, but also to heal the entire body. He therefore incorporates alternative medicine where necessary.