When visiting the dentist, you may hear the term TMJ or TMD tossed into your diagnosis. The temporomandibular joints are not only a mouthful, they control your mouth’s movement. TMJs refer to the muscles and joints that connect your jawbone to your skull, and allow you to open and close your mouth, chew, as well as swallow. These joints are also responsible for speech.
The TMJs are located on either side of the head directly in front of the ears and move your jaw like a hinge that’s connected with a ball and socket, with a disc in between.
If your dentist mentions TMD in your diagnosis, it likely means that your jaw system isn’t working properly, and that can lead to a series of problems that can affect the teeth, bones, and soft tissue. You’re not alone; the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) estimates that 10 million people suffer from TMJ, more accurately known as temporomandibular disorder (TMD), temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJD), or TMJ syndrome.
If you suspect you suffer from TMD or you want to know what to watch out for, keep reading to get the most updated advice from The Center for Dental Excellence.
Symptoms of TMJ
Pain: An ache from the jaw could indicate problems with the jaw joint and muscles. In some cases, the pain can radiate across the jaw, face, and neck. Some patients begin to feel an ache in and around the ear.
Stiffness: When you find it difficult to open your jaw very wide, that could indicate that TMJ is the culprit. Similarly, if your jaw locks altogether, this could also be an indication of a temporomandibular disorder.
Change in Teeth Placement: If you notice that your teeth or jaws no longer fit together as they should, your jaw may be out of alignment. Only a dental professional can tell you for sure. In some cases, you may need to see an oral surgeon or orthodontist to image the joint with a CAT scan and repair the alignment between your upper and lower jaws surgically or with braces.
Jaw Noises: Is there a popping noise when you open your mouth wide, and is the sound accompanied by a grinding sensation? That’s definitely a sign that the jaw joint structures have undergone changes.
Causes of Temporomandibular Disorders
Demographics: You may simply be more susceptible to TMJ. Statistics show that more women experience TMJ than men and it’s most common at the ages of 20 to 40.
Grinding Your Teeth: If you grind or clench your jaw when you’re nervous or sleeping, this could eventually lead to TMJ. Your dentist can help to make that determination.
Injury: If you recently suffered an accident that impacted the joint, jaw muscles or the alignment of your jaw, TMJ may indeed be mentioned in your dental diagnosis. Whiplash from a car accident is frequently associated with TMD.
When You’re Diagnosed with TMJ
Unfortunately, there are no tests for TMJ disorders, and there are no professionals specifically trained to treat the disorders. This can make diagnosing TMJ difficult. For this reason, you will want to make sure you visit a dental professional experienced in TMJ disorders. The first order of business that the professional will be tasked with is making sure you’re not suffering from another ailment whose symptoms closely match TMJ. These include headaches, sinus infections, and ear infections, among other common ailments.
The good news is that any pain associated with TMJ is usually short-lived. TMJ disorders also aren’t considered serious, in most cases, and will eventually go away on their own. If TMJ does become chronic, that’s when treatment may be required.
Treatment usually consists of, first, abstaining from many behaviors that may have caused the symptoms in the first place, such as chronic clenching, chewing gum, grinding the teeth, and leaning on your chin for long periods of time.
Other treatments are non-invasive and involve heat or ice packs, over the counter medication and jaw relaxation exercises.
Some dentists opt for bite plates or guards, the adjustment or reshaping of teeth (equilibration) to help them fit together more precisely, or you may be referred to an oral surgeon or orthodontist.
In severe cases, your dental professional may recommend crowns or bridges to balance your bite so that your symptoms diminish or disappear completely.
The Moment You Feel Symptoms, Ask for Help
The time to seek help is the moment you suspect you have TMJ or if the above symptoms are hindering your everyday life. Your dentist will give you a thorough examination before a diagnosis is given. If TMJ is mentioned, you’ll now be much more educated on what that means.
Schedule an appointment with Dr. David Brusky at The Center for Dental Excellence for composite fillings, teeth clenching, dental bridges, dentures, and of course TMJ.