November is National TMJ Awareness Month

What is TMJ?

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a hinge that connects your jaw to the side of your skull. It allows for your jaw to move up and down and side to side, so you can talk, chew, and yawn. Any problem that prevents the muscles, bones, and joints from working together can result in Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD).

TMD is characterized by pain and dysfunction of the TMJ and/or the muscles surrounding it.

Common Symptoms associated with TMD

If you have any of these symptoms you may have TMD:

  • Pain in the TMJ or jaw muscles
  • Jaws that “lock” in the open or closed position
  • Headaches, specifically in the temples
  • Tension in a neck and/ or face
  • Limited jaw movement
  • Clicking or popping sounds in the jaw joint
  • Difficulty chewing or pain while speaking
  • Tinnitus, or ringing in your ears
  • A change in the way the upper and lower teeth fit together
  • Swelling on the side of your face
  • Tooth pain

How is TMD diagnosed?

In most cases, TMD is diagnosed during a dental checkup. Your dentist starts by checking the range of motion of your jaw, determines areas of discomfort. Depending on your symptoms and discomfort level your dentist may need you to have imaging tests to provide you with a diagnosis. These can include:

  • X-rays of your jaws, temporomandibular joints, and teeth to determine the cause of the problem.
  • CT scan of the jaw to show the bony detail of the joint.
  • MRI to see if there are problems with the structure of the jaw or the position of the TMJ disc as the jaw moves.

After reviewing your symptoms, you may be referred to a specialist or oral maxillofacial surgeon. They are specialists in treating TMJ dysfunction and can provide further care and treatment.

What causes TMD?

Possible causes may include:

  • Arthritis
  • Orthopedic problems including inflammation, sore muscles, strained tendons and ligaments, and disk problems
  • Dislocation, injury, tooth or jaw alignment
  • Stress and grinding or clenching of the teeth
  • Poor diet
  • Lack of sleep
  • Structural jaw problems present at birth
  • Genes, age and gender (women appear to be more prone to it)

Treatment Options

It is possible for TMDs to resolve on their own but sometimes they require a therapeutic approach:

  • Eating soft foods
  • Limiting extreme jaw movements like yawning and prolonged, repetitive chewing and biting (gum, ice-chips)
  • Wearing a splint or night guard
  • Modifying pain with heat packs
  • Taking pain medication: (anti-inflammatories, analgesics, muscle relaxants, anti-anxiety drugs)
  • Botulinum Toxin (Botox®) injections to reduce muscle mass and inflammation
  • Radio wave therapy
  • Corrective dental treatment to improve your bite and align your teeth

Rarely, a surgical intervention is required and would be determined based on the TMJ symptoms and diagnosis. Three types of surgery include:

  • Arthrocentesis – outpatient procedure which removes fluid and debris from the joint.
  • Arthroscopy – performed under full anesthesia and involves removing inflamed tissue or realigning the disc.
  • In very severe cases where movement of the jaw is extremely restricted, and symptoms are long-lasting, the joint may need to be replaced during an open-joint surgery.

Treatment Options

The outlook for a TMJ disorder depends on the severity and type of the problem. It is possible for TMD to be successfully treated with at-home remedies, but if the condition is caused by a chronic disease such as arthritis, lifestyle changes just may not be enough and the discomfort may increase with time.

If you are suffering from jaw pain and discomfort, it is best to contact your dentist and get an evaluation so they can diagnose and determine what treatments might be right for you. Request an appointment today online or call 608.284.5400

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