WHAT IS TMJ DISORDER (TMD)?
Temporomandibular joint dysfunction syndrome, commonly known as TMJ disorder or TMD, refers to a variety of problematic and often painful jaw joint malfunctions. TMJ disorders affect a broad spectrum of the population and can present many different symptoms. Diagnosing the root cause of your TMJ disorder is critical to delivering effective treatment. Our dentist, Jeff Blackburn, DDS, is experienced in revealing the underlying issues that cause TMD so that he can provide his patients with much needed relief. If you are experiencing jaw pain or other symptoms of TMJ disorder, we encourage you to contact our practice to schedule an appointment with our skilled dentist.
- TMJ Disorder Symptoms
- TMJ Disorder Causes
- TMJ Function
- TMJ Effects
- TMJ Treatment Candidates
- TMJ Treatments
- TMJ Dentist
- TMJ Disorder FAQ
TMJ DISORDER SYMPTOMS
The temporomandibular joint is an important and complex point of articulation. When it is not functioning properly because of a structural disruption involving muscle, cartilage, bone, and/or soft tissue, the result can be a variety of uncomfortable symptoms, including:
- Pain near the temples and/or ears
- Locking jaw
- Sore or stiff jaw musculature
- Ringing in the ears
- Difficulty chewing and opening the mouth
- Grinding, clicking, or popping sounds coming from the jaw
WHAT CAUSES TMJ DISORDER?
There are many root causes for the symptoms involving the temporomandibular joint, including:
- Teeth grinding and clenching
- Jaw injury or injury to the jaw joint
- Jaw imbalance and/or misalignment
- Overuse or strain of the jaw joint
- Movement of the cartilage disk that cushions the jaw joint
- Injury to the muscles or tendons of the head and neck
WHAT DOES THE TEMPOROMANDIBULAR JOINT DO?
The temporomandibular joint is the point of connection between your lower jaw and the rest of your skull. As the mechanism responsible for movement of the jaw, this joint controls hinging actions like opening and closing the mouth, as well as sliding motions that allow the mouth to open wider. As a result, the delicate temporomandibular joints are essential to functions such as chewing, talking, and yawning.
WHY DOES TMJ DISORDER AFFECT OTHER AREAS OF THE BODY?
The region around the TMJ is comprised of an intricate balance of facial muscles, bones, cartilage, nerves, and blood vessels. When the jaw is functioning properly, a shock-absorbing disc of cartilage above the TMJ keeps movements like chewing and yawning smooth. However, when malfunctions in TMJ function arise due to injuries, prolonged pressure (clenching or grinding teeth), improper biting function, or other factors, fluid motion of the jaw can be disrupted. This forces facial muscles to acclimate and behave in irregular ways, often causing pain and tension to radiate to the head, ears, face, neck, shoulders, and back.
CANDIDATES FOR TMJ TREATMENT
Individuals who are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above and have been diagnosed with some degree of temporomandibular joint disorder may be candidates for treatment. To formulate a diagnosis, Dr. Blackburn physically examines the jaw structures and bite, evaluates x-rays of the area, and performs a thorough medical review. Once he arrives at an accurate diagnosis, he determines the most suitable course of individualized treatment. In all cases, those who meet the criteria for TMJ disorder are strongly urged to pursue treatment, as neglecting TMJ problems can cause serious and even permanent damage over time.
TMJ TREATMENT OPTIONS
If your TMD diagnosis makes you a good candidate for the types of treatments Dr. Blackburn offers, he can proceed with developing a personalized plan that will address your unique needs. In some cases, he may create a custom night guard to prevent teeth grinding and clenching as you sleep. Ideally, a night guard relieves excessive pressure placed on the temporomandibular joint and prevents aggressive side to side movement. This type of therapy may also be combined with anti-inflammatory medications and/or muscle relaxants. If you have an improper bite, Dr. Blackburn may perform a bite analysis and explore options for restoring proper occlusion.
CHOOSING A TMJ DENTIST
The care of a well-trained dentist with experience resolving jaw joint dysfunction is necessary to successfully alleviate the painful symptoms of TMD. Ideally, your dentist should be able to perform a thorough bite analysis and evaluate the anatomy of the temporomandibular joints to determine the underlying cause of your concerns. Dentists typically receive this type of training through membership to organizations such as the American Dental Association, which often provide continuing education courses on the treatment of sleep apnea, TMJ disorder, and other types of advanced oral care.
That said, you can ask your prospective dentist whether they have received any certifications or special academic training related to TMJ disorder to gauge their familiarity with the condition. Additionally, it can be helpful to read dentist reviews to learn whether previous patients who struggled with TMD found success under the care of a given TMJ treatment provider. Most importantly, speak with your dentist about your concerns and ensure they make you feel comfortable and confident in their ability to help you with your symptoms.
Dental Technology For Your TMJ Needs
In order to gain an accurate, detailed view of your jaw joints, our dentists at South River Dentistry use the advanced KaVo OP 3D™ scanner to help ensure we properly diagnose your TMJ disorder. This digital x-ray system is capable of rendering hundreds of high-quality images of your dentition, including the TMJs, so Dr. Blackburn and Dr. Lee can have a better understanding of any jaw joint dysfunctions. Unlike other x-ray platforms, KaVo OP 3D™ is optimized for patient comfort and designed with specific TMJ-related programs built into the interface.
ADDITIONAL TMJ DISORDER FAQS
HOW LONG DOES TMJ DISORDER LAST?
As TMJ Disorder is the result of jaw malfunction, symptoms will never resolve on their own without addressing whatever misalignments are occurring within the temporomandibular joint. Like most conditions, the best way to relieve pain and prevent small issues from turning into greater complications is proactive treatment. Dr. Blackburn is well-versed in evaluating mild to complex cases of TMJ Disorder and can suggest the most ideal course of action to treat your TMD symptoms.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE TMJ DISORDER?
Clicking and popping noises when you open and close your mouth can be a strong indication of potential jaw joint dysfunction, but an x-ray and physical evaluation is usually necessary to obtain an accurate diagnosis. If you know you clench or grind your teeth and/or experience facial aches and pain, TMJ disorder may be more likely. However, the common symptoms of TMD can also arise due to another unrelated condition, so the best course of action is to see a dentist or doctor to reach a more informed conclusion about the cause of your symptoms.
HOW CAN I TEMPORARILY RELIEVE TMJ PAIN?
Seeing a dentist is the best way to prevent your symptoms from worsening, but TMJ treatment at home may be able to diminish your pain until you are able to receive professional care. Some patients find success in taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications and applying ice packs to decrease swelling. It can also be helpful to avoid foods that require excessive chewing, such as gum, meat, and taffy. Soft foods that limit repetitive jaw motion are typically recommended when you are experiencing TMJ symptoms.
DO JAW EXERCISES FOR TMJ WORK?
Yes, certain jaw therapies may be able to help reduce tension on your jaw joints and alleviate your symptoms. These exercises may include massaging the sides of your face to soothe aches, or other physical therapies designed to strengthen and stretch the jawbone. Your TMJ dysfunction may be the result of certain movements that stress the mechanisms surrounding your jaw joints, so your dentist will show you how to optimize jaw movement when chewing or yawning if this is the case. Be sure to only practice jaw exercises recommended by a dentist, doctor, or other healthcare professional with knowledge of the physiology surrounding your TMJs.
For more information about disorders of the temporomandibular joint and the treatment options we offer, please contact our office to schedule an appointment with Dr. Blackburn.