TMJ stands for the temporomandibular joint that connects your jawbone to your skull and that acts like a sliding hinge. There’s one joint on either side of your jaw. Most times, this joint works smoothly and you aren’t even aware of it. However, in the case of TMJ disorders, you can experience pain in this joint as well as the muscles that control jaw movement.
While many people use the terms TMD and TMJ interchangeably, there is a distinction. TMD is short for temporomandibular joint disorder and refers to any dysfunction of the TMJ. This dysfunction occurs when the ligaments and muscles around the jaw joints become irritated or inflamed.
TMJ disorders affect between five and 12 percent of the population, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. These disorders are more common among women than men, and more often affect younger people than older.
The cause isn’t always easy to determine, and could include a multitude of factors such as arthritis, injury or genetics. If you have TMJ pain, you probably also grind or clench your teeth, which is known as bruxism. Good news is, most TMJ pain is temporary and can be managed at home with self-care or with non-surgical treatments by a dentist. Surgery is only considered as a last resort when all else has failed.
Symptoms of TMJ Disorders
There are some common symptoms of TMJ disorders you should be on the lookout for and those include:
- Jaw pain and/or tenderness
- Pain in the temporomandibular joints
- Ear ache
- Difficulty with chewing
- Pain when chewing
- Facial aches
- Locking of the joint
- Pain in the shoulders or neck
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Facial swelling
- Changes in how your teeth fit together
- Tooth pain
- Clicking or popping sound when chewing and/or grating sensation
As to that last point, if you don’t have pain associated with the grinding or clicking, it’s probably not a TMJ disorder.
If you experience these symptoms for a prolonged period of time, see your dentist in Elmwood. They will give you an exam to:
- Listen to your jaw and feel your jaw when you open and close your mouth
- Observe the jaw’s range of motion
- Press on certain areas around the jaw to identify the origin of your pain or discomfort
- Order x-rays if a problem is suspected
- Order a CT scan if necessary for images of bones in the joint
- Order an MRI if necessary for images of the joint’s disk or soft tissue surrounding it
Causes of TMJ
There are many causes that could be behind your TMJ pain. The bones that interact with the joint are covered in cartilage to ensure smooth gliding, separated by a small disk that absorbs shock. You could experience pain if:
- The disk has eroded or moved out of proper alignment
- The cartilage of the joint has been damaged by arthritis
- The joint has been damaged by an impact or injury
That said, it’s not always clear what causes TMJ disorders. That’s why it’s important to get a diagnosis from a dentist or doctor.
There are risk factors that come into play that could boost your chances of getting TMD, such as:
- Rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis
- Jaw injury
- Long-term grinding or clenching of teeth
- Diseases of the connective tissues
Treatment of TMJ Disorder
Most times, symptoms will go away without treatment, but if they persist, ask your dentist to recommend a treatment option that would work best for you. Here are some possible treatments that could be recommended:
- Pain relievers and anti-inflammatories. If you have no success with OTC pain meds, you may be able to get prescription strength ibuprofen for a limited time, for example.
- Tricyclic antidepressants. Used mainly in the treatment of depression, these can be used in low doses for pain relief and bruxism control.
- Muscle relaxants. You could try these on a temporary basis to relieve pain caused by muscle spasms.
Non-drug therapies for TMJ disorders are available as well, such as:
- Occlusal appliances such as oral splints or mouth guards. These are soft or firm devices that can be inserted over the teeth.
- Physical therapy. Exercises can be done to stretch out and strengthen the muscles of the jaw, as well as regular applications of heat and ice.
- Lifestyle changes. Avoiding teeth clenching or grinding, biting fingernails, and leaning on your chin.
Surgery and Other Procedures
When all else fails, your dentist or doctor may recommend:
- Arthrocentesis, a minimally invasive procedure whereby small needles are inserted into the joint to irrigate fluid for debris removal.
- Corticosteroid Injections
- TMJ arthroscopy, whereby an arthroscope is inserted and small surgical instruments are utilized to perform surgery.
- Open-joint surgery to repair or replace the joint. This is very risky and is only used as a last resort.
Make Your Appointment With Ashby Dental in Elmwood Today
If you suffer from TMJ pain and want a solution, book your appointment with us today at (510) 549-0133. For your convenience, we are located at 2507 Ashby Ave. in Berkeley, CA and our hours are Mon – Thu 8am to 4pm and Fridays 8am to 1pm.