Millions of Americans suffer from TMJ disorder every year. However, despite the prevalence of this often painful condition, it’s often misunderstood, and education on the subject can be scary. That’s why we’ve compiled the most important questions about TMJ disorder so you can get the answers you need in one place.
1. What is TMJ disorder?
TMJ is an acronym for the temporomandibular joint. The TMJ works like a hinge, connecting your jaw to your skull in front of each ear. It’s how you’re able to move your jaw up, down, and side to side so you can chew, talk, and yawn.
TMJ disorder often comes with painful and even disabling symptoms which are often mistaken for other conditions, such as sinus problems or arthritis.
It isn’t exactly rare, either. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) estimates that more than 10 million Americans suffer from TMJ disorder.
2. What causes TMJ disorder?
For the most part, doctors don’t yet know exactly what causes TMJ disorder. However, injury to the joint, your jaw, or the muscles of your neck and head can be factors. Other factors may include:
• Clenching or grinding your teeth
• Arthritis in the joint
• Stress—which often provokes you to tighten your jaw and facial muscles or clench your teeth
• Hormonal imbalances
• Postural problems
• Poor nutrition
…but scientists still don’t have real answers about what actually causes it.
3. How do you know if you have TMJ disorder?
Since a combination of factors can cause TMJ disorder, the symptoms of TMJ can come in a variety of forms. Some patients may have just one symptom, while others experience several.
Studies have shown that 75% of the population have at least one symptom of TMJ disorder, while 33% have a symptom that makes it essential to seek treatment.
These symptoms can include:
• Facial pain
• Soreness in front of the ear
• Difficulty opening and closing the mouth
• A tender jaw
• Pain behind the eyes
• Pressure or pain in the ears
• Popping, grinding, or clicking sound when opening and closing the mouth or chewing
• Tooth pain without any clear explanation
• Neck ache and/or stiffness
• Burning in the tongue or mouth
• Restricted jaw movement or “locking” of the jaw in an open or closed position
• An earache without an infection, sometimes spreading to the face
• Pain radiating to the shoulder
• Pain radiating to the shoulder
• A history of sinus treatment
• Vertigo, tinnitus, or ringing in the ears
• Hearing impairment
These symptoms may be related to several compounding causes over time.
Females are twice as likely to develop TMJ disorder as males, especially between the ages of 20-40. This is because hormones clearly play a role in TMJ disorder, especially estrogen, which makes the ligaments in the body more lax.
At the end of the day, the only way to know for sure if you have TMJ Disorder is to schedule an examination with a professional. If you have severe headaches, jaw or tooth pain, or other symptoms, and your doctor cannot find the cause or offer you satisfactory treatment, it’s a good idea to find out if you are suffering from TMJ disorder.
4. Can TMJ disorder be treated successfully?
Yes. We can vouch for that 100%, because for more than 30 years, at Moshiri Orthodontics, we’ve helped thousands of patients dealing with the daily struggles of TMJ disorder. From simple, easy-to-treat conditions to more extreme cases, we have a proven track record of successfully treating TMJ disorder.
In most cases, the discomfort of TMJ disorder can be solved through self-management—or at the most, nonsurgical treatments. Typically, surgery is only a last resort after more conservative measures have failed. Still, some people with more extreme cases of TMJ disorder do benefit from surgery.
5. What does TMJ treatment look like?
Treating TMJ disorder must be done with care. Often, there are several variables involved, making thorough diagnosis necessary before beginning any definitive treatment.
The treatment itself may require collaboration from all or some of the following professionals:
• Primary care dentist
• Oral surgeon
• Physical therapist
• Primary care physician
No matter your condition, the first step toward finding a solution is going to be a thorough dental examination. Depending on the diagnosis, treatments may include:
• Braces or Invisalign
• Bite guards
• Muscle relaxants
A common first step is using a splint. This splint is worn 24/7 (including during eating) and adjusted monthly. Generally, after 5 months, patients are symptom free. The patient is then re-evaluated for orthodontic correction of their bite or transitioned into a maintenance splint.
While wearing this splint, you’ll be instructed to:
• Keep your jaw in a neutral posture
• Maintain good neck posture
• Try cold packs and heat packs
• Try analgesics (e.g. Panadol) and anti-inflammatories
• Relax and avoid stress
• Cut your food into little pieces to avoid opening your jaw too wide
• Chew evenly on both sides of your mouth as much as possible
And you’ll be instructed not to:
• Eat chewy or hard foods (opt for soft foods like fish or pasta)
• Tear food with your front teeth
• Chew gum, pens, or ice
• Bite your nails
But what if you need jaw surgery to treat your TMJ disorder? Well, in extreme cases, jaw surgery can make all the difference. If it is necessary, your orthodontist will coordinate with your dental specialists to make sure it’s done with the highest level of care.
6. What happens if your TMJ disorder goes untreated?
If the underlying cause of TMJ Disorder is not treated, the problem can become chronic, creating more problems and making treatment even more complicated. Over time, arthritic degeneration may develop in the jaw joint. It’s best to get it diagnosed and treated as early as possible.
You aren’t alone.
When you suffer from TMJ disorder, it’s easy to feel like getting help is impossible. It may even seem difficult to decide whether you really have it at all.
An experienced dental professional should be able to make the diagnosis and give you the treatment you need for the true relief you crave. Help is just a consultation away.
Want some advice from an orthodontic practice with 30+ years of successfully treating TMJ patients?
We can help.
For more than 30 years, we’ve helped thousands of patients dealing with the daily struggles of TMJ disorder. As the most experienced TMJ practice in St. Louis, we’re fully equipped to help you give yourself a new lease on life.
If you’re interested in setting up a consultation for your TMJ symptoms, we will:
• Conduct a thorough review of your health history
• Perform a head and neck postural exam, a joint loading test, and a muscular exam
• Take a look at your teeth to see how best to bring you true relief
We believe in conservative treatment for TMJ disorder. Our treatment philosophy combines two phases:
• Phase I incorporates splint therapy, combined with intensive physical medicine modalities (i.e. chiropractor or physical/massage therapists).
• Phase II may involve modification of the patient’s bite via orthodontics (with or without jaw or joint surgery), restorative dentistry, or any other necessary treatment.
A thorough assessment will identify what treatment plan is best suited for your individual needs.
Click Here to learn more about how we can help you avoid unnecessary TMJ disorder treatments.