With all of the focus on teeth and gums, many patients forget or do not realize that dentists also can help with disorders of the jaw. One of the most common of these disorders is frequently called “TMJ”. TMJ is an abbreviation of the temporomandular joint, which is responsible for moving your jaw up and down. The name is derived from the two bones connected by the joint and facial tendons.
The upper part of the joint is formed by the temporal bone, which is one of the bones that form your cranium, and your mandible bone, or jaw bone. The most common of these disorders occurs when the joint cracks and pops when moved, and can be quite unsettling or uncomfortable for many patients. This normally occurs when the disc that articulates the joint is displaced and creates air bubbles, friction of the bone, and unnecessary tension on the joint. However, it is an easily treated disorder — and with proper care and supervision of an oral specialist or dentist, you can be free of this annoying and painful condition.
Symptoms of TMJ
Upon opening your mouth, you may hear a pop or click which will then echo when you close your mouth. This causes pain, inflammation, not too mention the sound is highly irritating given the proximity of the bone to your ear.
Other symptoms may also include, but are not limited to:
- Tenderness of the jaw and area around the jaw.
- Pain in or around your ear.
- Difficult chewing or discomfort when chewing.
- Joint-lock, making it difficult to open and close your mouth.
- General facial pain due to tension on facial muscles.
If you experience persistent pain in your jaw, or cannot open and close your mouth properly, seek medical attention immediately. While not life-threatening, you should not suffer any longer than absolutely necessary.
Causes of TMJ
Unlike many joints, the TMJ combines sliding and hinge motions. However, like the majority of our major joints, the TMJ is coated in cartilage and has a shock absorbing disk, which keeps the motions smooth and keeps chewing, speaking, and general function of the mouth comfortable. While the causes of TMJ are well known, the exact cause of each individual case can be unclear.
The most common causes of painful TMJ disorders are:
- The disk erodes or is displaced.
- The joint is damaged by inflammation and arthritis.
- Traumatic damage caused by falls, physical contact, accidents, or other impacts.
TMJ disorders happen most frequently in adults between the ages of 20 and 40 and is more prevalent in women.
My Jaw Really Hurts
If you are experiencing pain or Dr. Zadeh notices irregularities in the motion and feeling of your jaw, he will likely feel and listen to your jaw when you open and close your mouth, observe your range of motion, and look for sensitive areas to identify the cause and location of any discomfort. If Dr. Zadeh suspects there is an issue after your initial assessment, he will then take images of your jaw and skull with X-Rays and his ConeBeam CT Scan Machine. This will help isolate the problem area and inform your treatment.
If you are diagnosed with a TMJ disorder, you will be provided treatment the prognosis shows that it will not go away on its own. If your symptoms do not ease after awhile, or imaging reveals a moderate to severe problem, Dr. Zadeh will formulate a treatment plan.
Treatments for TMJ Disorders
Most treatments for TMJ are non-surgical and involve either the use of pain medication or occlusional splints in the form of a bite guard. These devices can be adjusted to your bite and particular needs. Treatment can also reduce conditions such as nocturnal bruxism (grinding and clenching) and snoring. Other treatments may include stretching and motion exercises to help stretch and strengthen your jaw muscles, as well as advice on how to cope with maladaptive behaviors such as nail biting or teeth clenching that may be aggravating your joints.
In extreme cases, you may need surgery, irrigation of the joint with needles, or injection of corticosteroids to reduce inflamation. However, surgical approaches are seen as a last resort and we recommended our patients avoid this route. Depending on your case, Dr. Zadeh will let you know what your treatment options are.
Is There Anything I Can Do To Ease My Symptoms or Prevent Them?
There are a few lifestyle changes you can make to either reduce your symptoms or outright prevent them. If you suspect your have TMJ or may be susceptible to TMJ, try some of these techniques:
- Eat soft foods, avoid chewing gum and excessively chewy foods (like taffy), and cut your food into small pieces.
- Stretching and massage to ease your symptoms.
- Alleviate pain by using over-the-counter painkillers like Motrin or Tylenol, or use hot and cold compresses on the side of your face.
- Relaxation techniques such as conscious breathing and meditation can help ease the tension that is aggravating your jaw muscles and joints.
TMJ disorder is a common and easily treated problem. If you have tried some of our suggestions and they have not worked, do not hesitate to call us at (310) 273-2020 or email our appointment coordinator to set up your complimentary consultation today. Life is too short to suffer with annoying, recurring pain, so you owe it to yourself to come in!