Temporomandibular joint dysfunction, better known as TMJ or TMJ syndrome, is a common condition that affects millions of Americans. While most people associate the disorder with jaw pain, teeth grinding or clicking sounds when moving the jaw, the reality is that TMJ can impact far more than just your jaw. In fact, this condition can create a wide range of debilitating symptoms that can greatly interfere with everyday life.
In this blog, the team of experienced dentists and TMJ treatment specialists at Boston Center for Oral Health will address the causes and symptoms of temporomandibular joint dysfunction and explain what TMJ treatment options are available.
What causes TMJ?
As the name suggests, temporomandibular joint dysfunction occurs when there is a dysfunction in the temporomandibular joint, the joint that connects your jawbone to your skull. When healthy, the joint acts like a well-oiled sliding hinge, allowing you to do things like open and close your jaw, speak and eat – all without discomfort. However, when a problem arises with the bones that interact with the joint, the cartilage that covers them, or the small, shock-absorbing disk that separates them, it can lead to significant pain and other unpleasant symptoms.
There are various possible causes that can lead to dysfunction in the temporomandibular joint and the exact cause (or combination of causes) leading to a person’s TMJ disorder may be difficult to pinpoint.
TMJ can be caused by:
- A traumatic jaw injury affecting the temporomandibular joint
- Misalignment of the teeth (“bad bite”)
- Arthritis in the temporomandibular joint, leading to damaged or eroded cartilage
- Grinding or clenching the teeth
Aside from the underlying causes, there are a few factors that may place you at a higher risk for TMJ. You may be more likely to develop TMJ if:
- You are female
- You are between the ages of 20 and 40
What symptoms does TMJ cause?
TMJ syndrome can create a wide range of unpleasant symptoms, which is why TMJ treatment is so important.
Symptoms caused by TMJ may include:
- Jaw pain
- Teeth grinding
- Erosion of the teeth
- Intermittent ringing in the ears
- Neck pain
Periods of prolonged or unexpected stress can make symptoms even worse in TMJ sufferers.
What TMJ treatment options are available?
Treatment for TMJ starts with proper diagnosis from an experienced dentist. The doctor will thoroughly examine your jaw area, analyze your bite and review your medical history in order to make an accurate diagnosis. This may involve observing your jaw’s range of motion, listening and feeling as you open and close your mouth and pressing on certain areas around the jaw to identify where it hurts. In some cases, X-ray imaging may be necessary in the diagnostic phase. Once a diagnosis has been made, there are several TMJ treatment options to consider.
Depending on your needs and the underlying causes of joint dysfunction, TMJ treatments may include:
- A bite guard – A custom-made oral appliance may be recommended to prevent teeth grinding at night.
- Relaxation techniques – Your dentist may recommend some relaxation techniques to help lessen the effects of stress and improve TMJ symptoms.
- Pain relievers – Taking pain relievers can help control the pain associated with TMJ. If over-the-counter options aren’t strong enough, a stronger pain reliever may be prescribed.
- Physical therapy – Stretching and strengthening exercises for the jaw, along with other therapies like ultrasound and gentle icing or heat may help improve symptoms.
- Muscle relaxants – In severe cases, when symptoms aren’t improved using other conservative options, muscle relaxants may be prescribed to help relieve tension and pain in the jaw.
- Realignment of the teeth – In order to provide long-term relief from symptoms, a TMJ treatment called realignment may be recommended. This treatment involves adjusting how the upper and lower teeth come together, effectively eliminating “bad bite” through the repositioning of natural teeth and/or the addition of new restorations. In addition to alleviating TMJ symptoms, this treatment can also improve the aesthetic appearance of teeth.
Where can I find the best dentists for TMJ treatment in Boston?
While TMJ can be a painful and frustrating disorder that interferes with everyday life, the good news is that there are numerous treatments for TMJ available and many cases of TMJ can be effectively treated with conservative measures. Despite the fact that TMJ symptoms may go away on their own, it is best to seek medical evaluation when symptoms first. If left untreated, TMJ disorder can eventually lead to an eroded jawbone and loose teeth, creating additional pain and oral health issues.
If you are suffering from symptoms that indicate the presence of TMJ, contact Boston Center for Oral Health today. Our Back Bay dental practice specializes in diagnosis and treatment for TMJ and we can help relieve your pain and get you back to your normal routine. Get started by filling out the schedule appointment form right on this page or by contacting our office.