It is estimated that over 10 million Americans suffer Temporomandibular disorders, commonly known as TMJ disorder. But how do you know if you need to see a TMJ dentist when your jaw, neck, and ears hurt? How do you know if this pain has to do with Temporomandibular Disorders? What are, in fact, TMJ Disorders?
Here is a quick guide to help you recognize the symptoms and possible causes of Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD). You will also understand the different procedures to diagnose and treat TMD.
WHAT ARE TEMPOROMANDIBULAR DISORDERS (TMD)?
TMJ actually refers to the Temporomandibular joints located on both sides of your face. These joints connect your jaw to your skull. They allow your mouth to make the necessary movements when chewing, eating, and yawning.
For different reasons, on occasions, some people may start feeling pain or discomfort in this area. These issues are known as Temporomandibular Disorders. Mostly, they involve severe pain, a kind of clicking or popping sound around the ears, or the feeling that your bite is not working well.TMJ disorders are much more frequent in women than men. In most cases, the pain is temporary and typically disappears with simple treatments to relax your jaw muscles. Sometimes, the pain goes away naturally. However, some people may suffer more severe and long-lasting symptoms. For them, the pain may become so unbearable that it requires immediate professional care.
CAUSES OF TMD
There might be different and complex causes for TMJ Disorders. A check-up with your TMJ dentist will determine if the temporomandibular joint is the actual source of your pain. Causes of TMJ pain may involve:
- STRESS: tension and anxiety usually play a key role in TMD.
- TEETH GRINDING: clenching your teeth may put a lot of pressure on your teeth and jaw muscles.
- A DAMAGED OR INJURED JAW: you might be having TMD due to a strong hit or accident.
- ARTHRITIS: This disease can also affect and damage the jaw joints.
- DISPLACEMENT: It may happen that the disc that supports the jaw joint gets displaced.
SYMPTOMS OF TMD
TMD Symptoms need to be thoroughly examined for an accurate diagnosis. Because other dental problems, such as tooth decay, infections or gum disease, may cause similar symptoms, TMD may be hard to detect. However, some clear signs can help you identify if you’re suffering TMD. These signs involve:
- Pain in or around your jaw
- Pain in or around your face muscles (including neck, ears, and head)
- Stiffness around your neck muscles
- A “clicking”, “popping” or “grating” sound when you open and close your mouth
- Inflammation and swelling
- A stuck jaw ( you can’t make the natural movements of your mouth)
- Difficulty opening your mouth to eat, chew and yawn
- A feeling that your bite is not working properly (like if your teeth met up in an odd way)
If you have any of these symptoms, chances are that you are suffering TMD.
WHEN SHOULD I SEE A TMJ DENTIST?
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms above, you should see a TMJ dentist soon. A TMJ dentist will evaluate the causes of your pain to determine if they are TMJ-related. After ruling out tooth decay or gum disease as the source of pain, your dentist can treat your TMJ disorders to alleviate your pain and get your joint and muscles back to their usual state.
DIAGNOSIS OF TMJ SYNDROME
The diagnostic process will start on your first visit to your TMJ dentist. This diagnosis will typically involve:
- HISTORY TAKING: This is the first and main step to determine the nature of your problem. Your dentist will ask you questions about your medical history and study your symptoms.
- VISUAL EXAMINATION: After careful observation of your mouth, your TMJ dentist will evaluate what the cause of your pain is. A comprehensive visual exam is key in the diagnosis.
- MUSCLE PALPATION: When your dentist palpates your joint, he or she can check where this discomfort is coming from. Your dentist will palpate the top and bottom muscles of your face and check the muscles behind your ears. He or she will make you open and close your mouth, move your jaw from one side and the other and ask you to clench your teeth. The idea is to check if any of these movements is causing pain.
- EXAMINATION: This also includes a series of exercises to check the movement of your jaw and examination of your joints. Your TMJ dentist will also listen to any clicking or popping sounds.
TMJ DIAGNOSTIC TOOLS
If necessary, your TMJ dentist will also use some of the diagnostic tools below:
The Tekscan: a state-of-the-art digital system used in dentistry to measure teeth pressure and force. It is a diagnostic tool that helps your dentist to identify bite pressure usually associated with TMJ pain.
Low-cost deprogrammer: an oral appliance you can wear to avoid teeth clenching and help reduce strain on your jaws. The deprogrammer will tell if your pain is a bite issue or if it is non-bite related. If it is, the deprogrammer can reprogram and accommodate your bite.
TREATMENT OF TMJ DISORDERS
There are a number of treatment options to tackle TMD. These procedures are meant to reduce pain and help you get your jaw functions back.
As 97% of TMJ pain comes from muscle-related problems, your TMJ dentist can effectively treat you with a combination of:
- bite splint
- bite adjustment
- muscle relaxers
- bite guard
- physical therapy
The remaining 3% of TMJ pain is related to intra-articular pain. This makes it more difficult to treat. If the therapy options are not enough to solve your problems, you will probably require surgical intervention.
The aim of TMD treatments is to relax your mouth, avoid teeth clenching, stretch your muscles and improve your bite and jaw motion. A Pankey dentist can make a difference when treating TMD. Because Pankey trained dentists are given advance education in the area of diagnosis and treatment, they are specifically trained in bite guards and bite adjustments.
If your discomfort is temporal and minor there are some things you can do at home to relieve pain:
- Take over-the-counter anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) under medical prescription
- Use cold packs to numb the affected area and reduce swelling
- Use moist heat to relax your muscles and improve motion
- Do exercises to stretch and relax your jaw
- Put into practice exercises to reduce stress in general
- Eat soft foods for some time; avoid chewing hard foods that may put more pressure on your jaws and teeth.
If you want to get more information about TMJ Disorders, feel free to email or call Rohrer Dental Wellness Center at
Phone: (561) 404-7360