What is TMJ?
Does your jaw hurt all the time? Does it cause discomfort when you chew or try to open your mouth wide? Do you hear clicking sounds in your jaw? If so, you might have TMJ, as it is commonly called, or by its more proper name, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD).
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint in your face that enables you to move and control your jaw with a sliding and hinge motion. It is covered with cartilage that is separated by a shock-absorbing disc to keep the movement smooth. Without the TM joint, you wouldn’t be able to eat, talk or move your mouth around. Patients suffering from TMJD experience dysfunction of that joint, which in turn can lead to severe pain.
Pain can be debilitating in other ways as well, causing disruption to sleeping and eating patterns, chronic headaches or migraines, sore teeth and an achy jaw. It most often is precipitated by grinding of the teeth (usually while you sleep), called bruxism, that can cause excessive wear on the tooth surfaces. It can also create extreme stress on teeth, gums and the supporting structures, leading to tooth loosening, cracking or breakage, and even tooth loss.
Symptoms of TMJD
• Popping or cracking, clicking or grating sounds when the jaw opens and closes
• Difficulty chewing or pain while chewing
• Limited range or painful range of motion in the jaw
• Aching pain around the ear
• Pain of tenderness when muscles related to the jaw are pressed manually
• Locking of the jaw; difficulty opening and closing the mouth
• Inability to close the mouth
To properly diagnose TMJD, your dentist may authorize a series of tests that could include dental x-rays, a CT scan or an MRI.
Options for Relieving TMJD
Sometimes TMJD can go away on its own; other times, intervention is necessary through a variety of treatment options.
There are several options for treatment from which your dentist may recommend as relief for your TMJD. Some of the treatment options listed by the Mayo Clinic for TMJ disorders include:
• Night Guards: a device worn over the teeth to prevent tooth grinding at night
• Splint Therapy: a soft or firm acrylic resin orthodic mouth guard designed to guide the jaw as it moves both side to side and front to back
• Occlusal Adjustment: to correct the bite where teeth meet
• Physical Therapy: exercises to strengthen and lengthen jaw muscles, moist heat and ice therapy, or ultrasound therapy
• Chiropractic Adjustments: to jaw, head and neck
• Counseling: to discover the causes for behaviors that could be causing or exacerbating TMJD pain
• Massage Therapy inside the mouth
• Pain Relievers and Anti-inflammatories: over-the-counter or prescription strength to relieve pain; non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) including ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB)
• Tricyclic antidepressants: for pain relief
• Muscle relaxants: used for short-term relief
• Botox© injections: to relieve pain
• Arthrocentesis: minimally invasive; inserts small needles into TMJ to flush out debris and inflammatory byproducts
• TMJ Arthroscopy: Surgical procedures done on the TMJ through small surgical instruments
• Modified Condylotomy: Surgery on the jawbone (mandible) but not the joint itself; helpful for locking of jaw
• Open-joint Surgery: Surgery to repair or replace the joint
When to See Your Dentist
Many people experience jaw pain from time to time, which is often resolved naturally. If you have concerns about TMJD, please bring it up on your next dental visit. You should schedule a visit to your dentist immediately if you are experiencing ongoing or severe pain, or are unable to open close your jaw.
At Advanced Family Dentistry, we are glad to discuss any concerns you might have over the dental health of any member of your family. We are a family dentist serving patients throughout Northern Virginia. Please feel free to call us or schedule an appointment.
Dr. Sonny Kim is a Diplomat of the International Congress of Oral Implantologists (ICOI), the highest education level for general dentists in this field.