What is TMJ?

TMJ is a term that is often used for a disorder of the temporomandibular joint, a hinge that connects the jaw to the skull on each side of your mouth. The TMJ is actually the joint; a disorder of this joint is technically referred to as TMD.

What Is TMD?

The TMJ is connected to the temporal bones of the skull in front of your ears. The TMJ is what allows you to move your jaw both up and down and from side to side. Normally, you are hardly even aware of this joint; however, temporomandibular disorder or TMD can cause serious pain and other problems for you.

While experts are not sure what causes TMD, they believe that certain things can cause these problems, including:

  • Injury to the jaw, the TMJ or muscles of the head and neck. Many people suffer whiplash-type injuries in car crashes or from slip-and-fall accidents. Other are injured by a heavy blow. In either case, damage to the TMJ can lead to symptoms of TMD.
  • Grinding or clenching the teeth. Tooth grinding, which often happens at night when the person is unaware of his or her actions, can put tremendous pressure on the TMJ and may cause pain and other issues.
  • Movement of the disc in the ball and socket of the TMJ. Like some other joints, the TMJ includes a ball-and-socket construction surrounded by a soft cushion. If this cushion moves or is damaged, it could lead to pain and failure of the joint.
  • It is possible that some cases of TMD are caused by a special type of arthritis.
  • Psychological stress. When you are under stress, you may unconsciously clench your teeth or tighten your facial muscles. If that continues, it is very possible that you may experience symptoms of TMD.

What Are The Symptoms of TMD?

TMD causes serious symptoms that can impact a person’s entire life. The symptoms may be temporary or they may last for years, and can affect one or both sides of the face. TMD is most common among women than men and usually occurs between the age of 20 and 40, but anyone can get it at any age.

Common symptoms include:

  • Pain in the face, particularly the jaw, neck or shoulders
  • Tenderness in the ears, especially when chewing or speaking
  • Pain when opening the mouth wide
  • Jaws that seem to get “stuck” in an open or closed position
  • Clicking or popping sounds in the jaw, with or without pain
  • A feeling of fatigue in the jaw or facial muscles
  • Uncomfortable bite in which the bottom and top teeth do not seem to align correctly
  • Facial swelling
  • Toothache
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Earache
  • Difficulty hearing or ringing in the ears

Unfortunately, many other disorders or conditions can mimic these symptoms. For example, tooth decay can cause pain in the jaw while sinus problems can lead to headache. It is important for you to discuss all possible medical issues with your dentist and disclose any problems you are having outside of jaw pain.

How Is TMD Treated?

The dentist will check for pain and listen for tell-tale grating sounds, pops or clicks when you move your jaw. The dentist may also manipulate your jaw and test your bite to check for muscle problems and locking of the jaw.

Next, your dentist will take x-rays that help to view the jaw and TMJ as well as the teeth. These x-rays may be paired with magnetic resonance imaging or MRI, or with computer tomography or CT tests that allow the dentist to see details about the TMJ.

The dentist may make one of several recommendations depending on the results of these tests. Very mild cases of TMD may be treated at home with NSAIDs and heat or cold packs as well as jaw-stretching exercises. You may be advised to eat a soft diet that excludes hard, crunchy or chewy foods. You may also be advised to learn relaxation techniques that will help you prevent grinding your teeth or clenching your jaws.

However, in many cases TMD requires more significant intervention. Often, dentists will prescribe:

  • Your dentist may prescribe muscle relaxers or anti-anxiety drugs to help you control clenching and grinding.
  • Night guard. A splint or night guard is a mouthpiece that is custom-made for you and helps you stop grinding your teeth.
  • Dental work. You may need dental work such as crowns, bridges, braces or implants to correct problems with your jaw.
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation or TENS. TENS therapy uses electrical currents to help the jaw and facial muscles relax. This can be done at the dentist’s office and often brings significant relief from TMD pain.
  • Ultrasound therapy. Ultrasound techniques may also relieve TMD pain and can be performed in the dentist’s office.
  • Targeted injections. Pain-killing medication may be directed to specific points on the jaw in order to relieve TMD pain.
  • Radio wave treatment. Radio waves are sometimes used to stimulate the TMJ.
  • Laser therapy. Laser therapy may improve pain and inflammation as well as help the patient move the jaw more freely.
  • There are three types of surgery for TMD, including: arthrocentesis for locked jaws; arthroscopy, which uses a light and video screen to allow the dentist to see inside the jaw; and open-joint surgery, which requires general anesthesia.

For more information on TMD, talk to the professionals at Door Creek Dental. We may be able to help you if you suffer from joint pain and discomfort.