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 muscles disorders may find that the conditions vary widely, experts have divided the symptoms into three different categories. These include myofascial pain, internal derangement of the jaw, and arthritis.
- Myofascial pain includes discomfort or pain in muscles that control jaw function.
- Internal derangement of these joints involves a dislocated jaw, a displaced disc, or an injury to the rounded point at the end of bones, called the condyle.
- Arthritis references a group of degenerative/inflammatory joint disorders that might affect the temporomandibular joint.
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 your typical 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, TMJ arthroscopy may help diagnose the condition via the use of a small thin tube and a camera to examine the joint space. Whether at your routine examination or outside of the office, you can always speak with us about any potential pain or discomfort you may be feeling that you think could connect to TMD.
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 are something our staff or your doctor must talk with you in length about beforehand.
Another option for TMD treatment is an oral appliance called a stabilization splint – or a bite guard. This is a plastic guard that fits over the upper or lower teeth and, although the most widely used TMJ disorder treatment, does not conclusively result in pain relief. Additionally, these bite guards should only be used for a short time and should not cause permanent changes in the bite. If one increases your pain or affects the way you bite, you should stop using it and contact us or your doctor.
We’re always here to help in any way we can, so if you have any questions or concerns you may contact us today! We would be happy to schedule your appointment with Dr. Lawlor.