The Temporomandibular Joint sounds like a huge, complicated thing but it’s actually really simple. Place your fingers just in front of your ears and open your mouth. You should be able to feel the joint move under your fingertips. This is the TMJ. This joint connects the jaw to the skull. TMJ disorders can also involve the muscles that help move the jaw. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research reports that over 10 million Americans suffer from some form of TMJ disorders, many undiagnosed and unreported.
The symptoms often include
-Ringing in the ears
-Clicking or popping sounds when opening the mouth or chewing
-Difficulty chewing or speaking
-Pain or tenderness in the face, jaw, neck or shoulders
-Jaw gets stuck in open or closed position
-The feeling that your teeth don’t line up when you bite down
Leading Phoenix area cosmetic and family dentist, Dr. John Pappas, DDS, says,
“As humans, we tend to ignore minor aches and pains or brush them off as normal. If you’ve suffered from headaches, jaw pain, neck pain or ear pain it’s a good idea to be checked for TMJ Dysfunction. It’s a treatable condition that is usually caused by misalignment of the jaw joints. There’s no need to live in pain whether it be minor or severe.”
The causes of TMJ disorders are still relatively unknown. Trauma or accidents have been shown to be a leading cause. Grinding and clenching of teeth, whether unconsciously at night or throughout the day due to things like stress have also been considered a cause. Sometimes, the jaw bones and muscles can naturally grow at different rates and don’t line up, putting pressure in all the wrong places.
There are many avenues for treatment depending on the cause and the level of severity of the symptoms. In the most extreme cases, surgery may be recommended. Getting diagnosed before symptoms become severe is the key to minimally invasive treatment. Learning ways to reduce stress to limit the amount of jaw clenching that occurs throughout the day and night is one way to alleviate some of the symptoms. Using heat to relax the muscles along with over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs can be used as directed by a medical professional when symptoms are moderate.
If surgery is required, the road to recovery can be long. It should not be considered until all other methods of less invasive treatments have been attempted.
“The main problem in cases of TMJ dysfunction is that the jaw joints are not in their ideal position. Repositioning the bite to a more comfortable position can be the key to relieving painful symptoms. To do this, we use a variety of treatment options including oral appliances, simple adjustments and sometimes full mouth reconstruction.”
Oral appliances fit over the teeth and can help better align the bite and reduce wear on the teeth. These devices are sometimes made to wear only at night, but other times are meant for all day wear. They help discourage clenching and grinding of teeth. These mouth guards can be purchased over-the-counter or custom fit by a dental professional.
Over-the-counter options are often very bulky. They don’t always cover all of the teeth and can be uncomfortable. Some of them are boil and bite, similar to sports mouth guards and others have molds to bite into and then send away for fitting. Professional grade mouth guard appliances allow for a completely custom fit that improves comfort and ensures a less bulky feel. Having a dental professional overseeing the process also allows for any modifications needed to make sure the fit is perfect and comfort is maximized.