Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders affect the jaw and cause soreness, headaches, as well as clicking and popping in the jaw. Stress is a common cause of TMJ disorders resulting in teeth grinding and clenching. It can be caused by a variety of factors, but our dentists at My Family Dentistry are well-equipped to diagnose and treat the disorder.
To help you better understand TMD, we’ll look at:
- What are TMJ disorders?
- Symptoms of TMD
- What causes TMD?
- Can dentists treat TMD?
TMJ disorders can go untreated or undetected if they aren’t caught by a dental professional. We check for TMJ disorders as a part of our new patient special in order to provide the highest quality of care to our patients.
What Are TMJ Disorders?
TMJ is short for the temporomandibular joint. It connects your jawbone and skull on both sides of your face, acting like a sliding hinge allowing your jaw to move. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to talk, chew, or yawn the way we normally do.
Unfortunately, we can develop problems with our TMJ that results in joint and muscle pain. This is known as temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD for short.
On the upside, symptoms of TMD such as pain and discomfort are temporary. Patients can work with our dentists to develop a treatment plan that they can follow at home. Most of the time, these at-home treatments often help alleviate symptoms and make surgery unnecessary.
Symptoms of TMD
TMD can manifest itself in multiple ways. Common symptoms include:
- Soreness or pain in your face
- Neck pains
- A stiff jaw
- Jaw pain, either when still or when eating
- Teeth not connecting when chewing
- Difficulty chewing
- Popping in your jaw when eating
- Feeling like your jaw is “locked” in a single position
- Difficulty opening or closing your mouth
- Recurring headaches
- Pain that originates around your ears
One of the biggest problems with TMD is how it affects your sleep. Many people who suffer from sleep disorders also have TMD. Symptoms such as migraines, tension headaches, sleep apnea, teeth grinding (bruxism) can seriously impede your ability to get a good night’s sleep.
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), an estimated 44 million Americans have some form of TMD. This also means that there’s a good chance that people are losing a good night’s sleep due to their symptoms.
What Causes TMD?
When functioning normally, the TMJ acts as a hinge that slides to allow your jaw to move. The sections of bone that make contact with each other are separated by a shock-absorbing disk. Together, they help the jaw move smoothly and painlessly. On the other hand, TMD causes the temporomandibular joint to malfunction, resulting in pain and soreness.
Experts currently aren’t sure exactly what causes TMD. They suspect that it may be caused by problems with the jaw or with the TMJ itself. This could be the result of multiple factors, including erosion of the disk or it falling out of its correct alignment. Cartilage can also become damaged for various reasons, leading to the pain and soreness associated with the disorder.
There are risk factors that can increase your chances of developing TMD. These can include:
- Injuries such as whiplash or a blow to the jaw
- A genetic predisposition
- Rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis
- Tissue diseases that affect the TMJ
Patients who experience jaw pain are also prone to clenching their jaws or grinding their teeth. While many people who clench their jaws or grind their teeth never develop TMD, doing so can make the disorder much worse for those who have it.
Can Dentists Treat TMD?
Just like with tooth decay, gum disease, and other oral health issues, we’ll ask you about your health history and conduct a physical exam if you have this frustrating disorder. This includes checking the joints in your jaw for pain and tenderness as well as telltale clicking, popping, and grating sounds when you move your jaw. We will also check your bite for any issues.
Treatments for TMJ Disorder
Our dentists may recommend a combination of traditional remedies and at-home exercises to treat your TMD. Traditional treatments include prescription pain medications to help alleviate your pain. Splints and night guards help prevent the effects of clenching or grinding your teeth at night which keeps them protected and helps you sleep better.
In some cases, dental work may be necessary to correct any bite problems that may be causing your TMD. This can help balance your bite as well as fix any problems that may have developed from clenching and grinding your teeth.
At-home treatments can also help alleviate your TMD symptoms. These can include:
- OTC pain relievers
- Heat and ice packs
- Jaw stretches
- Eating softer foods
- Relaxation exercises
Being mindful of your teeth’s position can also be extremely helpful. Get in the habit of keeping your teeth apart to help relieve pressure on your jaw. It can even help to hold your tongue between your teeth if you tend to grind them. Good posture and avoiding uncomfortable positions, such as holding your phone between your ear and shoulder, can also help.
TMJ disorder can be a painful problem that follows you throughout the day. Contact us today to learn how you can be free of jaw pain and get the good night’s sleep you deserve.
We believe everyone deserves to have a smile they can be proud of, and we provide that to our patients using the latest techniques in comfortable dentistry. My Family Dentistry is open Monday through Thursday and every other Friday. Give us a call at (865) 947-6453 or you can schedule an appointment online.
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