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Understanding TMJ: What You Need to Know
If you are experiencing sensitive or unusually worn teeth, a popping or clicking jaw, or unexplained pain such as headaches and earaches, you might be suffering from TMJ, or temporomandibular joint disease. This is a serious and often progressive disease which, over time, can cause permanent damage to your jaw joint and the supporting structures. Fortunately, with proper diagnosis and treatment, TMJ can be halted or even reversed.
What Causes TMJ?
The complex temporomandibular joint normally operates like a sliding hinge between the skull and the jawbone. Cartilage and discs cushion and protect the joint, allowing smooth and pain-free movement. In TMJ, however, this joint becomes misaligned.
TMJ sometimes appears after an impact to the jaw. Hormonal fluctuations may be responsible for some cases, as it is most frequently diagnosed in women between 20 and 40 years of age. For most of the 35 million sufferers in the United States, however, the root cause of TMJ remains a mystery.
Stress is often implicated as a cause, likely because those with anxiety are more likely to grind the teeth or clench the jaw. However, in most cases of TMJ, an actual structural misalignment of the teeth is found. If the teeth do not come together properly, chewing will pull the jaw out of alignment to create a more balanced bite. This puts intense pressure on the joint capsule and surrounding muscles, leading to the characteristic pops, clicks, and pain that are hallmarks of TMJ.
Symptoms of TMJ
Every case of TMJ is unique, and everyone’s subjective experience is different. Still, most people with TMJ experience at least a few of these common symptoms:
- – Jaw pain or tenderness
- – Earaches
- – Headaches
- – Facial pain
- – Painful or difficult chewing
- – Clicking, popping, or grating sounds when moving the jaw
- – Joint lockup, making it difficult to fully open or close the mouth
TMJ Treatment Options
The goal for TMJ treatment is to relax the jaw by ensuring that the bite is in harmony with both itself and the joint. This allows you to use your mouth normally, eliminates pain, and stops the progression of the disease.
Because everyone is different, there is no single right way to accomplish this goal. Depending on your individual needs, your dentist might select one or more of the following treatments:
- – Medication
- – Bite splint or orthotic
- – Physical therapy
- – Equilibration and functional reconstruction
Other specialized treatments are also available. Your dentist will perform a thorough examination and go over the results with you in detail. The treatment process often takes several appointments to complete, and is individualized based on your symptoms, their severity, and the complexity of the underlying issues.
In most cases, a TMJ treatment plan will include both in-office and home treatment procedures. In mild cases, home remedies may be all that is required. Your dentist will give you a specific home care plan based on the results of your examination, but here are a few common suggestions:
- – Soft foods: While the goal of treatment is to return your jaw to full use, eating certain foods can worsen the pain during the healing process. Choose soft, easy to chew foods such as fish, scrambled eggs, yogurt, and well-cooked vegetables. Cut other foods into small bites, and skip hard or sticky foods for a while.
- – Ice packs: Ice can help to ease pain. Ask your dentist to explain exactly when and for how long you apply each ice treatment.
- – Intentional relaxation: Stress can lead to clenching and jaw tension, so build relaxation breaks into your day. Consciously hold your teeth slightly apart, placing your tongue between them if needed. Minimize large mouth movements such as yelling or singing.
- – Avoid chewing gum or ice: The process of chewing can cause TMJ pain, so eliminate all unnecessary forms of chewing while you heal.
- – Over the counter pain medications: Check with your dentist to make sure you do not have contraindications based on your current medications or health status. For most people, however, over the counter medications can bring temporary pain relief. If these do not work for you, ask your dentist to prescribe something a bit stronger.
TMJ is a complex and highly personalized disorder that generally gets worse over time. With proper diagnosis and treatment, however, it is possible to stop and even reverse the disease. Your dentist will draw up an individualized treatment plan based on your symptoms and the severity of your condition.
Married dentists Chad and Alexandra Schnabel welcome you to Savannah Dental Solutions. From caring children’s dentistry to high-tech cosmetic procedures and even full-mouth reconstruction, we blend the latest technology with traditional customer-oriented values. To start your journey to better oral health, call us today at (912) 354-1366.