What is TMJ?
Your temporomandibular joint connects your jawbone to your skull. These small joints that create the hinge in front your ears get a lot of use. They facilitate the movement of your jaw, up and down, and from side to side. You use these joints and muscles all day long, whenever your chew, speak, yawn and swallow.
When your temporomandibular joints are in the correct alignment, your teeth come together in their proper bite position, and your muscles relax. When you have TMJ, there may be additional stress on the joint cartilage, the ligaments and the muscles. This explains the pain you feel in your jaw, face and neck. TMJ disorder is believed to have three leading causes.
- Arthritis (osteoarthritis or rheumatoid)
- A misaligned bite
- Injury or dislocation of the jaw
The pain from TMJ can be mild, or it can be excruciating. You may feel chronic or recurring pain in your face, your jaw or your neck. TMJ can cause an extensive range of symptoms.
- Recurring headaches
- Tenderness, to extreme pain, around the jaw joint
- Limited range of motion
- Neck pain
- A clicking sound or popping when your jaw moves
- Muscle spasms in the area of the jaw
- A change in alignment of upper and lower teeth
- Recurring ear or sinus infections
- Sensitive teeth where no problem is found
How TMJ is Diagnosed
There is no standardized test to diagnose TMJ. Your orthodontist will want to rule out other causes of jaw and facial pain such as cavities or sinus problems. Your diagnosis will be made by your orthodontist based on your description of the symptoms and a physical examination of your teeth, face and jaw. Your doctor will check for any popping or grinding, and may also want to take specialized x rays of the temporomandibular joint. Your practitioner may also want to make a cast of your bite, so they can see exactly how your teeth fit together.
Your bite can be misaligned even when your teeth are perfectly straight. You cannot tell if your bite is causing the issue by looking in a mirror. Your bite can be perfectly aligned at one point in your life, and change as you get older.
Your orthodontist is specifically trained to treat your TMJ disorder when it is caused by improper alignment. There are several treatment options. Your orthodontist will determine the best solution for your condition after a complete evaluation.
A Mouth Guard Worn at Night
The night guard worn for TMJ is different than the night guard worn to prevent teeth grinding. This appliance, also called a splint, will raise your bite and reposition your jaw in a way that will allow the muscles to relax. When the muscles are allowed to relax and heal, the symptoms of the disorder will subside. These splints must be precisely made, and may require a few adjustments to perfect them. Over time, the repositioning becomes permanent.
A Splint Worn During the Day
Your orthodontists may decide you need to wear a splint during the day to alleviate your symptoms. These splints are made of a transparent acrylic and look similar to the clear aligners that are used for straightening teeth. They are hardly noticeable and will not interfere with your speech.
Realigning Your Bite
Fortunately, it’s never too late in life to correct a misaligned bite. Your orthodontist may suggest realigning your bite by shifting your teeth to allow the jaw to return to its optimal position. This will involve the use of dental braces or clear aligners.
Self Help for TMJ
When the symptoms of TMJ flare, there are behavior modifications that may alleviate some of your symptoms.
- Relax your face by keeping lips together, but teeth apart.
- Eat softer foods that are easy to chew
- Don’t open your mouth too wide
- Cut foods (like apples), so you do not stress the joint
- Avoid chewing gum
- Use over-the-counter pain medication if necessary
- Use heat or cold to alleviate pain
- Try to chew evenly on both sides
There are multiple benefits to having your TMJ disorder treated by a qualified orthodontist. If the pain is severe, your practitioner may want to provide medication to relax the joint or to ease the pain. Your jaw pain will lessen with proper treatment. If you need realignment, completing the treatment will save future wear on your teeth. The goal of your treatment is to reduce your pain and improve the function of your temporomandibular joint.
Dr. Timothy Glass has the experience to diagnose and treat your TMJ. If you’re suffering from any of the symptoms of TMJ, contact us for an appointment today!