You’ve been noticing some tightness in your jaw. Your dentist mentioned TMJ. You googled the term and have questions. Regardless of how you learned about it, understanding and treating TMJ is can lead to greater comfort in day-to-day activities. Physicians can help resolve the issue, but often this mysterious disorder resolves itself.
What is TMJ?
TMJ disorders, or temporomandibular joint disorders, are issues involving the muscles surrounding the jaw. The pain can cause not only discomfort but also dysfunction in the jaw itself.
The joint connects the lower part of the jaw to the skull on the side or the temporal bone. It enables mobility for talking, chewing and all other jaw control.
A slight pain or discomfort in the jaw may be a sign of the disorder, however, these symptoms could disappear on their own. TMJ disorders, however, can be cyclical.
In many cases, the pain is myofascial — pain related to facial muscles. People who suffer from arthritis and inflammatory joint disorders are more likely to suffer from TMJ disorders. Finally, the disorder could be caused by a slipped disc in the jaw, or any form of injury to the condyle (the rounded part of the bone where the joint is formed). You could have one or all three of these, or a slew of other health issues that have been found in correlation, such as:
- Fatigue syndromes
- Rheumatic disease
- Sleep disturbances
What causes TMJ?
While doctors aren’t sure what exactly causes TMJ disorders, the most common cause is direct trauma. Your kid could accidentally kick you, you could have a car accident — a plethora of different scenarios could impact your jaw. Bad bites and orthodontic procedures will not cause the TMJ to flare up, however, 10 million Americans a year report feeling the sensations that accompany a TMJ disorder.
Because doctors aren’t sure of a definitive cause, they are constantly looking for new ways of treating TMJ disorders and identifying genetic causes. These disorders are more common in women, so new research is attempting to find a correlation between the disorders and female hormones.
Do I have a TMJ disorder?
If you have one or more of the conditions listed above, you could be at risk for a TMJ disorder. Contact a dentist if you notice any of the following recurring symptoms:
- Throbbing pain in the jaw that feels as if it is radiating outward
- Limited mobility
- Clicking or popping in the jaw when attempting to open or close mouth
- Sudden shift in teeth alignment
When you approach a doctor or dentist with these symptoms, it is likely they will attempt to rule out other illnesses like headaches, sinus issues, infections and other nerve-related issues.
Most of the time, treatment is non-invasive. Because many TMJ symptoms go away on their own, dentists and doctors often recommend self-care in the form of eating softer foods, using ice packs for swelling, controlling jaw movements (such as yawning), and practicing therapeutic exercises. A physician might recommend over-the-counter anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen or NSAIDs, and they may prescribe muscle relaxers to manage pain.
How can a dentist help in treating TMJ?
In treating TMJ disorders, you need a doctor who understands the musculoskeletal workings of the jaw — this is a dentist’s area of expertise. Because they understand how the bones and muscles in your jaw work together, they are better able to find fast solutions for pain relief and treatment.
In addition to the self-care treatments listed above, a dentist may use a stabilization splint (or bite guard) to relieve pressure on the joint itself. A dentist may also recommend a Botox injection to alleviate pain and strengthen the muscle surrounding the TMJ. While Botox is not FDA-approved for TMJ disorders, it is a viable treatment for many other disorders and is awaiting further research for treating TMJ.
A dentist may also pursue a more invasive treatment into the tissues of the jaw. While doctors do not often recommend surgery, there are special cases. After you and your physician exhaust all other options, surgery may be the last resort. They could attempt any of the following:
- Altering your bite through orthodontics
- Bridge work for balance
- Grinding/smoothing teeth for balance
- Surgical treatment
- Replacement of joints with implants
However, these invasive practices may not be necessary. If you show symptoms, contact Ericsson Dental to begin treating TMJ and beginning your path to a more comfortable life. Their resources offer multiple methods of treatment for TMJ disorders.