TMJ disorders can be a real pain in the jaw.
If you’re worried that you may be suffering from a TMJ disorder, also known as Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD), then you probably have some questions. We’ve rounded up some common questions to help you get the answers you need regarding TMJ and TMD.
These two terms are closely related and often get mixed up. TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint, which is the joint that connects the lower jaw to the skull. TMD stands for Temporomandibular Disorder, which is what occurs when the TMJ is affected by issues that often lead to discomfort or pain.
It’s not uncommon for the term TMJ to be used in place of TMD.
There are many factors that can affect the jaw joint, and sometimes it’s difficult to pinpoint a single cause.
Some common causes of TMJ disorders include a misaligned or uneven bite, jaw injuries, poor posture, arthritis, joint erosion, genetics, teeth grinding or bruxism, and jaw clenching.
It’s also possible for TMJ disorders to surface or worsen during times of emotional stress as this can lead us to clench, tighten or grind our teeth or jaw. It is important to remember in general terms, when a body is stressed by anything it has a reduced capacity to cope with any kind of challenge, including TMD.
As mentioned, many TMJ disorders are caused by a misaligned bite. Your bite is a trinity made up of the position of your jaw joints, the function of your jaw muscles, and the fit of your teeth. If these three elements are not balanced, several oral health issues can surface.
Watch out for common TMJ symptoms, which often include pain or discomfort, but not always.
What does TMJ pain feel like? While a sore jaw is a common symptom, you may also notice sharp or aching neck pain, ear pain, face pain, jaw pain, throat pain or unexplained headaches.
Those suffering from a TMJ disorder may experience feelings similar to lockjaw, making it difficult to speak or chew.
A clicking jaw is another sign that you might have a TMJ disorder. Be cautious of unusual clicking, popping or grinding sounds while chewing or talking. Like any other joint in your body, your jaw should not make noises when functioning — this is a strong indication that something is wrong.
There are some simple tests that you can take at home to diagnose a TMJ disorder.
You can test your posture, the mobility of your neck, the wear and tear of your teeth, and the position of your jaw. Click here to learn more about how to complete these TMJ self-tests.
While it’s possible to perform certain tests yourself, you should still seek the help of a professional if you’re concerned.
If you’re experiencing consistent pain or discomfort, it’s time to see a professional who can help diagnose the severity of your disorder and find solutions that work for you. You can make an appointment with your doctor or a dentist who has advanced training in diagnosing and treating TMJ disorders.
A TMJ diagnosis is often based off a combination of the patient’s descriptions of their discomfort (their history), and a thorough examination. This examination includes a physical assessment (visual exam and palpation), assessment for any visible swelling, tenderness or misalignment of the jaw — often spotted by facial asymmetry. Different imaging tests are valuable, such as x-rays, CT scans or MRIs.
TMJ treatment comes in a variety of forms. Historically treatments include a variety of mouth guards, orthodontics, other dental appliances, TMJ exercises, electro-neural stimulation, and TMJ massage. Other options that have been put forward include Botox, nerve blocks and jaw surgery.
Regardless of the severity and the nature of your TMJ disorder, a medical professional should be the one to guide care and create a treatment plan that works best for you. Medical practitioners in the treatment of TMD can include a dentist, doctor, physiotherapist, chiropractor, massage therapist, ENT specialist, or a combination of the above. Looking at this list - it is really a team, and many times it will take multiple practitioners to achieve the best results. Like every team, there should be a leader, and when dealing with TMD the leader position is best suited to a dentist. The dentist becomes the quarterback, and as such the training of the dentist is what becomes of paramount importance. TMD is multi-faceted and requires study and attention to detail.
To learn more about how Kelowna Dental Solutions treats TMJ patients, click here.
There are some simple steps you can take to treat TMJ/TMD at home, or at least relieve TMJ pain.
Pain medications or muscle relaxants are one way to relieve TMJ pain. Applying heat or cold to the jaw area, eating softer foods, and practicing relaxing the jaw muscles can also offer relief.
There are also TMJ exercises and stretches that can be done at home, which can be prescribed by a medical professional.
While these techniques can be helpful, they are more temporary fixes, and it’s still important to seek the help of a medical professional if your discomfort persists.
To prevent developing a TMJ disorder, practice good posture and relaxing the jaw muscles whenever possible. Do you best to reduce stress and jaw tension.
It’s also important to have regular dental checkups performed so that your dentist can catch any potential bite or jaw issues early on, offering you the chance to take more preventative measures.
We hope you found this guide helpful! If you have any further questions regarding TMJ or TMD, please contact us at Kelowna Dental Solutions. We specialize in treating TMJ disorders in Kelowna surrounding areas in the Okanagan, and we would be happy to help.