Understanding Temporomandibular Joint Disorder
If not for the temporomandibular joint, more commonly referred to as the “TMJ,” you would not be able to speak, laugh, yawn, or chew food effectively. The joint consists of interconnected muscles, ligaments, and discs that connect the upper and lower jaw bones and allows you to move them from side to side, up and down, and forward and backward. As a crucial component of a workable mouth and overall oral health, dentists generally check its function during the course of an oral examination.
As one of the most complex joints in the human body, problems with its proper functioning are not uncommon. In fact, medical professionals believe that roughly 12 percent of the U.S. population is affected by a TMJ disorder at any given time. While a TMJ disorder may be discovered during a dental exam, they generally become apparent due to any number of direct symptoms or referred pain, including:
- pain while chewing or talking
- an uncomfortable feeling with bite
- locking of the jaw, making it difficult to open or close the mouth
- a clicking noise or grating sensation when opening or closing the mouth
- pain or tenderness in the actual joint
- pain in the neck or shoulders
- pain in or around the ear
- swelling on the side of the face
- earache and/or a buzzing or ringing in the ears
Causes and Risk Factors Behind TMJ Disorders
Because the TMJ is a complex joint, causes of its disorders are as varied as the differences in symptoms. A physical blow to the jaw area or dental surgery can lead to TMJ problems, and some TMJ disorders are caused by arthritis, autoimmune diseases, connective tissue diseases, and infections. Chronic teeth grinding and clenching (bruxism) can cause the disorder, as can stress or anxiety that causes excess tightening of the facial and jaw muscles. Poor posture, orthodontic braces, and excessive gum chewing have also been identified as potential causes and risk factors. Even playing the violin has been identified as a risk factor, due to the positioning of the instrument under the jaw.
Treating TMJ Disorders
While most cases of TMJ disorder resolve themselves within weeks or a month or two, it can become a chronic condition for some people. This is especially true for those cases caused by arthritis, bruxism, or connective tissue disease. While treatment is generally dictated in part by the diagnosed cause, medical and dental practitioners typically try to resolve the disorder with the most conservative treatments possible, and avoid surgery unless absolutely necessary.
If your TMJ disorder is identified as a symptom of bruxism or stress, your dentist may suggest using a custom made mouth guard or oral splint at night to reduce the impacts of grinding. Your dentist may also prescribe pain relievers, muscle relaxers, or anti-inflammatory drugs, as part of your treatment.
Other non-surgical treatment options include:
- change in diet
- over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication
- periodic placement of moist heat or cold packs on the sides of the face
- neck and jaw massage
- physical therapy
- steroidal injections
- botox injections
Island Tower Dentistry Can Diagnose TMJ Disorders
The dental-care experts at Island Tower Dentistry are familiar with TMJ disorders and inspect the physical functioning of the TMJ during examinations at their Marco Island office. If you are experiencing pain in the jaw and/or having difficulty talking or chewing, make sure you inform a member of the Island Tower Dentistry team so that they can properly assess your jaw function and initiate a treatment plan. To learn more about how the Island Tower team can help resolve your TMJ disorder, or address any other oral health concern, contact us today at 239-394-1004 to make an appointment!