Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction, often called TMJ or TMD, is a fairly common condition. Since it affects the joint that connects your jaw to your skull, TMJ can affect eating, talking, chewing, and even yawning!
If you’ve been diagnosed with a temporomandibular joint disorder, you may want to know more about it. Read on to learn about TMJ symptoms, causes, and treatment options.
Though most people think of TMJ pain as the primary symptom, temporomandibular joint disorders can present in several other ways. Additionally, some people only have pain on one side, while others experience discomfort in both TMJs. Temporomandibular joint dysfunction can also present as:
- An aching pain in and around your ear or face
- Difficulty or pain when chewing
- Locking of the temporomandibular joint when your mouth is open or closed
- Clicking, popping, or grating sounds in the joint when you open and close your mouth
- Swelling along the side of your face
Further, some people may experience headaches, dizziness, upper shoulder pain, and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). If you experience several of these symptoms, you may want to consult your dentist to be evaluated for temporomandibular joint disorder.
How is TMJ Diagnosed?
Unfortunately, many conditions cause the same symptoms as TMJ, including tooth decay, gum disease, arthritis, and even sinus problems. Your dentist can assess your situation through a physical exam.
Expect your dentist to do a thorough exam of your jaw to identify points of pain or tenderness, clicking, popping, or grating with movement, and bite alignment. Your dentist will also check for any issues with your facial muscles or when opening and closing your mouth.
In some cases, additional imaging may be necessary. Full facial x-rays, MRIs, and CTs provide a clearer picture about your bone structure and can help rule out alternate causes.
Nobody knows exactly what causes temporomandibular joint disorders, but there are some potential triggers. Generally, it is believed that these disorders come from problems with the jaw muscles or parts of the joint.
Obviously, any injury to the area could lead somebody to develop TMJ pain. Other potential causes may involve disc erosion or misalignment, damage to the joint cartilage, arthritis in the joint, teeth grinding, and stress. In many cases, the direct cause remains unknown.
Risk Factors for TMJ
Though we don’t have a known cause for temporomandibular joint dysfunction, there are some factors that could put you at risk.
- Jaw injury or trauma
- Long-term teeth grinding or clenching
- Some connective tissue diseases
- Poor posture that affects the neck and upper back
- Prolonged stress
- Women between the ages of 18 to 44 have increased risk
These factors may put you at greater risk for developing TMJ symptoms, but some of them can be managed. If you have more than one of these risk factors for TMJ, you may want to speak with your dentist about how you can reduce your chances of developing symptoms.
TMJ treatment varies depending on symptom severity. Some people can manage the TMJ pain at home, while others need medical interventions.
Home Treatments for TMJ
There are some steps you can take to manage your TMJ symptoms at home. You may need to combine several options to get relief.
- Over-the-counter medications, like ibuprofen, can help with TMJ pain.
- Alternate applying cold packs and moist heat to your face and temples. Start with an ice pack for ten minutes, then hold a warm, damp washcloth to the area for five more minutes. You can repeat a few times per day.
- Stick with soft foods and avoid anything crunchy or chewy that works your jaw too much.
- Stop chewing gum and avoid any activities that require you to open your mouth too wide.
- Avoid clenching your teeth, resting your chin on your hands and holding your phone between your ear and shoulder.
- Work on your posture to keep your neck and shoulders correctly aligned.
- Practice relaxation techniques to help manage stress and anxiety. Many relaxation techniques alleviate tension in your jaw, neck, and shoulders.
Dental Treatments for TMJ
Since it’s not easy to determine what causes TMJ, the treatment options can vary from case to case. Some patients might require more than one treatment approach to find relief, and it could take a little trial and error to find what works.
Medication is typically the easiest course and first step in providing relief. When over-the-counter options fail to alleviate the pain, muscle relaxers and higher doses of pain relievers may be necessary.
Dental work to repair damaged teeth and repair gums can sometimes restore function, reduce inflammation, and relieve pain.
Braces can correct bite issues to reduce stress on the jaw and provide some relief. Additionally, orthodontic appliances, like oral splints and night guards could help alleviate some of your pain.
Physical therapy can help people relieve tension in the jaw, neck, shoulders, and upper back to find relief. Alternatively, laser therapies using low-level infra-red light have helped reduce pain and inflammation for some patients.
Surgical intervention is usually the last option because it’s the most invasive. The level of invasiveness depends on the severity of your condition.
- Arthrocentesis involves injecting fluid into the joint to improve the range of motion by reducing inflammation and pressure.
- Arthroscopy is the next level that involves a few holes in the skin near the joint. The surgeon removes any scar tissue, reshapes the joint, and can inject medication.
- Open-joint surgery is the most invasive option and the last option. It typically involves removal of tissue and bone and joint repair.
Many people find relief without invasive surgeries, but it might require a combination of treatment options. It’s best to speak with your dental team about what works and what doesn’t to find the optimal treatment plan for you.
If you have concerns about temporomandibular joint disorders, the team at Jefferson Dental & Orthodontics can help. Find the office nearest you, then schedule an appointment!