Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, commonly called TMJ or TMD, is a painful condition that affects more than 15 percent of American adults. It frequently goes undetected due to its all-too-common symptoms like neck pain and headaches. If properly diagnosed, TMJ sufferers can often find relief by changing their habits at home. Some patients, though, need to seek professional help. With treatment, TMJ symptoms can become manageable – or may even disappear completely.
What is TMJ?
The temporomandibular joints, situated just in front of the ears on either side of the face, are extremely unique. By both hinging and sliding, these joints move in a circular motion to help us digest, chew food, and speak. The bones near the joint are cushioned by a small disk, and they are covered in connective tissue. TMJ disorders occur when the joint, disk, and cartilage are impacted in some way – either by erosion or misalignment.
People are more likely to develop TMJ if:
- They clench or grind their teeth at night or when they feel stressed
- They have experienced some type of trauma to their jaw
- They suffer from some form of arthritis
- They have a connective tissue disease
Do I have TMJ?
Diagnosing TMJ can be difficult; however, there is a relatively simple three-step technique that you can perform to see if symptoms exist:
- Touch the areas in front of your ears with your first two fingers.
- Open your mouth slightly or make a chewing motion to feel the joints move.
- Take note of the pain and soreness felt, and any unusual or irregular range of motion.
TMJ sufferers will typically feel a popping or clicking sensation in the joint area and experience tenderness or pain in the facial area (i.e., the jaw, face, ear, or neck).
Other symptoms include:
- Locking of the jaw
- Muscle spasms
- Pain while chewing
TMJ can only get better if you diagnose it and take steps to address it. It rarely heals on its own without preventative measures. Many people who suffer from TMJ don’t realize that there are specialists who can help them with diagnosis and relief. Dentists, for example, will take the time to listen to your symptoms and determine whether further testing is required. They can take an x-ray to pinpoint where your problems are occurring, and make recommendations for treatment. Some therapy can be done at home, but more severe cases will require professional assistance.
Treatment options include:
- Lifestyle changes – You may be able to reduce your symptoms by simply protecting your joints from everyday wear and tear. If you stop chewing gum and eat softer foods in smaller pieces, you can essentially give your jaw a break.
- Stretching – Your dentist may recommend seeing a physical therapist to obtain some stretching techniques that you can do at home.
- Mouthguards – If clenching and grinding are causing the TMJ, your dentist can make a special occlusal appliance called a mouthguard [link to https://www.idealdentalsolutions.com/services/preventive/nightguards-and-mouthguards/] to protect your teeth.
- Ice and Heat – Sometimes icing or heating the affecting area will help reduce pain.
- Medications – Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories and pain relievers can often make the pain manageable. If they don’t help, your doctor can prescribe you something stronger, like a muscle relaxer or even a certain type of antidepressant.
- Counseling – A counselor can help you to break the habits that exacerbate your pain.
- TMJ Arthroscopy – Unlike more invasive open-joint surgery, arthroscopic surgery can fix certain TMJ issues through tiny, fast-healing incisions.
- Arthrocentesis – A doctor can use small needles to inject fluid into your joint, washing away any debris or byproducts of inflammation.
- Injections – It may seem odd, but injecting botulinum toxin type A, otherwise known as Botox, into the jaw muscles can help relieve pain for some people. Others respond better to more traditional corticosteroids.
- Open-Joint Surgery – If less-invasive options do not resolve your pain, open-joint surgery may be required to repair – or possibly replace – the joint.
TMJ and You
If you believe you might have TMJ, or you have already been diagnosed with the condition, don’t give up hope. Once the origin of your pain has been identified, there are many treatment options available to relieve – or possibly eradicate – your TMJ symptoms. Always try some simple home remedies and non-invasive treatments before seeking more invasive ones.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at Ideal Dental Solutions today. Our team of highly-skilled dentists can tailor a treatment plan to fit your needs, whether you are looking for a custom dental appliance like a mouthguard or only need to practice some stretching exercises at home. Ideal Dental believes that the team approach is the best way to achieve oral health. By combining our professional treatment with your in-home care, you’ll be on your way to a healthier – and more comfortable – smile in no time.