The temporomandibular joint or TMJ is the name for each joint (right and left) that connects your jaw (the mandible) to your skull at the temporal bone. TMJ disorders are a family of problems that occur when the joints of the jaw and the chewing muscles (muscles of mastication) do not work together correctly. If you have had symptoms like pain or a “clicking” sound you may have temporomandibular disorder or TMD. Since some types of TMJ disorders 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 doctors 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, therefore tightening your jaw muscles and stressing your TM joint. Prolonged teeth grinding (bruxism) can also cause enamel to wear off teeth causing dentin exposure. This material is softer than enamel and more susceptible to decay. Sensitivity to hot and cold food and drink may also develop as a result of this excessive teeth grinding.
- 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?
Signs and symptoms include:
- Grinding or clenching of the teeth
- Waking up with sore, stiff muscles around the jaws
- Frequent headaches or neck aches
- Worsening pain when clenching the teeth
- Stress makes the clenching and pain worse
- The jaw clicks, pops, grates, catches, or locks when opening the mouth
- Difficulty or pain when opening the mouth, eating, or yawning
- Injury or trauma to the neck, head, or jaws
- Arthritis with other joints
- Teeth that no longer touch when biting
- Teeth that meet differently from time to time
- Difficulty using the front teeth to bite or tear food
- Sensitive, loose, broken or worn teeth
If you suspect that you may have a TMJ disorder, a consultation should be scheduled.
There are various treatment options that our doctors can utilize to improve the harmony and function of your jaw. Once an evaluation confirms a diagnosis of TMJ disorder, your doctor will determine the proper course of treatment. It is important to note that treatment always works best with a team approach of self-care joined with professional care.
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. Self-care treatments can often be effective as well 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
Stress management techniques such as biofeedback or physical therapy may also be recommended, as well as a temporary, clear plastic appliance known as a splint. A splint (or nightguard) fits over your top or bottom teeth and helps keep your teeth apart, thereby relaxing the muscles and reducing pain. Appliances also help to protect from tooth wear. There are different types of appliances used for different purposes and the appliance that is right for you can determined at your consultation.
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 doctors do not consider TMJ surgery unless the jaw can’t open, is dislocated and nonreducible, has severe degeneration, or the patient has undergone appliance treatment unsuccessfully.