TMJ Disorder Treatment
TMJ stands for the temporomandibular joint, which connects the jaw to the skull. It’s what lets you move your jaw, enabling you to talk and chew your food. On each side, it connects to the skull just in front of your ears, at what is known as the temporal bones. If you develop problems with your jaw or muscles of this area, it’s technically called a temporomandibular disorder, but it’s commonly referred to as TMJ.
The disorder is marked by general discomfort associated with jaw movements. You might feel pain when you open your mouth wide, chew or speak. This pain can manifest anywhere in the general area of your face, ears, or neck. Other symptoms include “lockjaw,” when the jaw becomes “stuck” in an open or closed position, as well as muscle fatigue, clicking or popping sounds, swelling, or difficulty with chewing.
What causes TMJ Disorders?
Doctors don’t always fully understand what causes TMJ disorders, but it is often associated with injuries such as whiplash. Grinding your teeth can also put pressure on the joint, leading to TMJ related problems. Arthritis can be a factor in TMJ syndrome. It can even be related to conditions like poor posture, misaligned teeth, and stress-related tightening or clenching of the jaws. Women between the ages of 18 and 44 also are at higher risk for TMJ syndrome.
Whatever the cause, if you’re feeling any of the symptoms mentioned above, we recommend visiting the dentist to help you figure out a treatment method. Though TMJ disorders often respond well to at-home treatments, it’s important to visit a dental professional to make sure that you are taking the proper approach. Your dentist will conduct a physical exam, look at your medical history, discuss your symptoms, and if necessary, perform other diagnostic procedures like X-rays or an MRI to rule out other disorders.
How is TMJ treated?
Once properly diagnosed, many symptoms of TMJ disorder can be dealt with using at-home remedies or over the counter medicines. Sometimes, the use of ice packs, painkillers like ibuprofen or naproxen, massage or relaxation techniques will be enough to clear up your discomfort. Dentists also recommend that sufferers of TMJ eat soft foods, avoid chewing gum and practice holding the jaw in a relaxed (slightly open) position.
In cases that don’t respond to these basic measures, the dentist can prescribe stronger painkillers, muscle relaxers, or an anti-anxiety medication if stress is determined to be the cause of the disorder. A dental splint or mouth guard might be recommended to patients who struggle with grinding their teeth, or physical therapy might be used to help strengthen and increase flexibility in the jaw muscles. Finally, dental work may be required to correct misalignment.
In extreme situations, a range of other treatments are available. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), pain medication injections, radio wave therapy and low-level laser therapy are all options that can be considered. In short, your dentist will not give up until you are experiencing relief from your TMJ disorder symptoms.