Your temporomandibular joints, often called the TMJ, are located on each side of your face where your mandible meets your skull. These joints, along with the muscles, bones, and ligaments attached, are responsible for the movement of your jaw. Each TMJ has a disc, which is set between a ball and socket, that absorbs the impact of the stresses placed upon it. This enables you to open and close your mouth, as well as move the jaw back and forth and side to side. When the TMJ are healthy, you probably spend very little time thinking about them. However, if the TMJ becomes irritated, it can lead to a significant amount of discomfort, and it is all you can think about. There are some different disorders that can affect your TMJ. At Shenandoah Family Dentistry, we can diagnose the cause of your TMJ pain and help you to get the treatments you need to restore your oral health.
TMJ disorder is a broad term that encompasses a wide variety of different issues that affect the health of your TMJ as well as the jawbone, and the muscles and ligaments attached. These issues can significantly impact the functions of your mouth and interfere with your life. They also often cause severe pain in the jaw and joints. There are several issues that can lead to TMJ disorder:
• Facial trauma. Trauma can result from a car accident, a fall, a sports injury and more.
• Jaw dislocation. Dislocation, even if it is only for a few seconds, can irritate the joint, causing inflammation.
• Bruxism. This is a condition in which you clench and grind your teeth. Stress often causes it, and it frequently occurs at night. The excessive amounts of pressure you place on your jaws tire the muscles and irritate the joints.
• Arthritis. There are two types of arthritis that can contribute to TMJ disorder. Osteoarthritis is a condition in which the cartilage in the joints begins to break down. Rheumatoid arthritis is a condition in which your immune system attacks your tissues, including at the joints, causing inflammation.
Because there are so many different causes of TMJ disorder, there are different symptoms that you may experience. These symptoms do not occur immediately. Instead, they come on gradually. Some symptoms may not even seem related to the TMJ, or the mouth at all, which can lead you to believe you have an entirely different issue. Common symptoms of TMJ disorder include:
• Severe pain at the joints, the jaw, and the surrounding facial regions.
• Difficulty or pain opening and closing your mouth.
• Trouble eating or speaking.
• Hearing or feeling a clicking, popping or grinding in the jaw.
• Your jaw may temporarily lock open or closed.
• Chronic headaches and earaches. Headaches are often caused by the stresses placed on the jaw traveling to different areas of the skull. Earaches occur due to the proximity of the ears to the TMJ. Pain from the joints can radiate to the ears.
Diagnosing TMJ disorder involves a thorough oral exam. We first visually examine your mouth and your face. We check your teeth for alignment issues and assess wear patterns on your enamel. We check your bite to determine jaw alignment issues and check for areas of pain. After a visual exam, we will also take images. This may include x-rays, 3D imaging, CT scans, or CAT scans. The images allow us to see the roots of your teeth, your bones, your muscles, and your joints. Your full exam gives us a complete picture of your oral health, allowing us to determine the cause of your TMJ disorder so we can help you to get the treatments you need.
There are a variety of different treatments for dealing with TMJ disorder. These treatments include:
• Home remedies. This may mean OTC pain medication, ice and heat packs, sticking to a soft foods diet, and practicing relaxation techniques.
• Oral appliances. An oral appliance, or oral splint, is a type of device that resembles a mouthguard. It is made from an impression of your mouth and is meant to be worn while you sleep. In cases of bruxism, it helps to hold the jaw in proper alignment and cushion against the pressures your jaw tries to place on the joints and muscles.
• Botox. Commonly used as a cosmetic treatment, Botox can be used to relax facial muscles, preventing bruxism.
• Orthodontic treatments. Orthodontics may be recommended to correct crooked teeth or a misaligned jaw.
• Oral surgery. Surgical options are saved for extreme cases, and when no other treatments have proven effective.
With proper treatment, we can help to alleviate your TMJ issues, helping to restore your oral health and improve your quality of life. For more information, and to schedule your consultation, call Shenandoah Family Dentistry today at (540) 667-8731.