TMJ is an acronym for the temporomandibular joint, which is a hinge that connects your jaw to the bones in front of each ear – the temporal bones of your skull. This is where temporomandibular disorder (TMD) can occur and result in discomfort, dysfunction, and pain in the joints and muscles that make up the jaw and control its movement. For most, jaw pain does not indicate a serious condition and the pain they experience is temporary and occasional. For some, however, substantial long-term symptoms may develop and cause more than just infrequent irritation.
TMD Condition Types
Although individuals who suffer from temporomandibular joint and muscular disorders may find that the conditions vary widely, experts have divided the symptoms into three different categories. These include muscular pain, joint deformity, and an imbalanced bite.
- Muscular pain includes discomfort or pain in muscles that control jaw function.
- Joint deformity involves a dislocated jaw, a displaced disc, or an injury to the bone surrounding the jaw joint.
- An imbalanced bite can affect the way your jaw handles pressures such as chewing. If your teeth are not balanced, your jaw joint and jaw muscles will have to work harder to compensate. This leads to muscular exhaustion and is evident through migraines, facial pain, jaw soreness and phantom tooth pain.
It’s possible for a person to suffer from more than one of these conditions at a time and even have additional health problems such as sleep disturbances, fibromyalgia, or chronic fatigue syndrome. Furthermore, diseases like arthritis may additionally aggravate the temporomandibular joint due to the pain, stiffness, and inflammation caused to muscles, joints, and bones as a result of these diseases.
Causes and Symptoms
There are a variety of uncomfortable symptoms associated with TMJ disorders that include aching facial pain, neck pain, difficulty or pain with chewing, pain in one or both of the temporomandibular joints, tenderness or pain of your jaw, pain in and around your ears, changes in the way your upper and lower teeth fit together, and joint locking that makes it hard to open or close your mouth. They can also cause grating or clicking sensations when you chew or open your mouth, but generally, if there is no pain associated with it, you won’t need treatment for TMJ disorder. As clicking or sounds in the jaw, outside of ones coupled with pain or limited jaw movement, occur commonly, they are not linked with TMJ disorders alone.
What We Offer
During our specialized dental appointments, we will listen to and feel your jaw while you open and close your mouth, observe the motion range of your jaw, and press on areas of your jaw to identify spots of discomfort or pain. If we suspect any problems, an x-ray can help reveal potential issues with joint discs as well. Lastly, our state of the art equipment can detect muscular abnormalities and diagnose muscles that are becoming strained. We use EMG (electromyography) readings to determine unstable positioning and also to show us where your jaw is going to be most comfortable.
As there are still many factors of TMJ disorders that are unknown, we may try to offer more conservative treatments for your pain or discomfort. Self-care or at-home practices such as eating soft foods, avoiding extreme jaw movements (wide yawning, gum chewing, loud singing), learning relaxing and stress-reducing techniques, applying ice packs, and practicing gentle jaw stretching and exercises will be some of the first treatment options we encourage.
Short-term use of over-the-counter pain medications or anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen is something we might recommend to provide temporary assistance from jaw discomfort. Stronger medicines, anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, and anti-depressants are also an option, but these medications are something the team and Dr. Lawlor will need to discuss with you prior to prescribing.
Finally, the most recommended option for TMD treatment is an oral appliance called an Orthotic or stabilization splint. This is a plastic guard that fits over the lower teeth and balances your bite. One of the main causes of jaw pain is an imbalanced bite, this is also the easiest to correct. Once your bite is balanced (so that all teeth are contacting at the same time), joint pressure is equalized and the jaw feels more relaxed. Some patients are able to wear the Orthotic part time, and some patients will need to progress to a fixed or permanent Orthotic. If an Orthotic increases your pain or affects the way you bite, you should contact your dentist right away.
We’re always here to help in any way we can, so if you have any questions or concerns you may contact us today via text, email or telephone! We would be happy to schedule your appointment with Dr. Lawlor who has completed months of advanced training on Orthotics and TMJ therapy and has trained his team on the latest and most advanced TMJ equipment available.