TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorders are a family of problems related to your complex jaw joint. If you have had symptoms like pain or a “clicking” sound, you’ll be glad to know that these problems are more easily diagnosed and treated than they were in the past. These symptoms occur when the joints of the jaw and the chewing muscles do not work together correctly.
TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint, which is the name for each joint (right and left) that connects your jaw to your skull. Since some types of TMJ problems can lead to more serious conditions, early detection and treatment are important.
No one treatment can resolve TMJ disorders completely and treatment takes time to become effective. Our oral surgeons can help you have a healthier and more comfortable jaw.
Trouble with Your Jaw?
TMJ disorders develop for many reasons. You might clench or grind your teeth, tightening your jaw muscles and stressing the joint. The joint may be damaged due to injury or disease. Injuries and arthritis can damage the joint directly or stretch or tear the muscle ligaments. As a result, the disk, which is made of cartilage and functions as the “cushion” of the jaw joint, can slip out of position.
Whatever the cause, the results may include a misaligned bite, pain, clicking, or grating noise when you open your mouth or trouble opening your mouth wide.
Do You Have a TMJ Disorder?
- Are you aware of grinding or clenching your teeth?
- Do you wake up with sore, stiff muscles around your jaws?
- Do you have frequent headaches or neck aches?
- Does the pain get worse when you clench your teeth?
- Does stress make your clenching and pain worse?
- Does your jaw click, pop, grate, catch, or lock when you open your mouth?
- Is it difficult or painful to open your mouth, eat, or yawn?
- Have you ever injured your neck, head, or jaws?
- Have you had problems (such as arthritis) with other joints?
- Do you have teeth that no longer touch when you bite?
- Do your teeth meet differently from time to time?
- Is it hard to use your front teeth to bite or tear food?
- Are your teeth sensitive, loose, broken or worn?
The more times you answered “yes,” the more likely it is that you have a TMJ disorder.
There are various treatment options that we can utilize to improve the harmony and function of your jaw. Once an evaluation confirms a diagnosis of TMJ disorder, the dentist will determine the proper course of treatment.
“The initial goals are to relieve the muscle spasm and joint pain”
The initial goals are to relieve the muscle spasm and joint pain. This is usually accomplished with a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, or muscle relaxant. Steroids can be injected directly into the joints to reduce pain and inflammation.
The necessary course of treatment is dependent on the specific diagnosis and severity of the damage to the joint. Oftentimes, a clear plastic splint, or “night guard,” is effective to prevent damage caused by clenching and grating of the teeth. A splint may also be fashioned to move your jaw into correct alignment thereby reducing the strain on the joint and surrounding musculature.
Night guards are fashioned to fit your bite by taking an impression of your teeth. This impression is then sent to a lab where your night guard will be constructed.
What About Bite Correction or Surgery?
If your TMJ disorder has caused problems with how your teeth fit together, you may need treatment such as bite adjustment (equilibration), orthodontics with or without jaw reconstruction, or restorative dental work.
Surgical options such as arthroscopy and open joint repair restructuring are sometimes needed, but are reserved for severe cases. Our surgeons do not consider TMJ surgery unless the jaw can’t open, is dislocated, has severe degeneration, or the patient has undergone appliance treatment unsuccessfully.
Self Care Techniques
It is important to note that treatment of TMJ disorder always works best with a team approach of self-care joined with professional care. Self-care treatments can often be effective and include:
- Resting your jaw
- Keeping your teeth apart when you are not swallowing or eating
- Eating soft foods
- Applying ice and heat
- Exercising your jaw
- Practicing good posture
Your dentist may also recommend stress management techniques such as biofeedback or physical therapy.