Temporomandibular joint disorders, or TMJ disorders, refer to a group of conditions affecting the jaw joint, called temporomandibular joint, and the muscles which control jaw movement. TMJ disorders (sometimes referred to as TMD) affect an estimated 10 million Americans. Furthermore, research shows that it is more prevalent in women than in men.
Temporomandibular Joint Introduction
7 Day Dental Introduction to Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorders
What Is TMJ?
To better understand TMJ disorders, it’s best to define what the temporomandibular joint is. The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, is a small joint which connects the mandible (lower jaw) to the temporal bone, the bone located at both sides of the head. The TMJ enables the mandible’s smooth upward, downward, forward and side to side movements. Suffice it to say, these small joints facilitate actions such as chewing, talking and yawning.
Additionally, for each TMJ, there is a small disc that lies in between the socket of the temporal bone and the condyle (the end of the lower jaw). The disc makes it possible for the jaw to glide smoothly and open widely. In addition, these discs act as cushions between the bones to reduce the load the jaw joints receive during chewing and other movements.
What Are TMJ Disorders?
Basically, the TMJ and its surrounding structures which include the teeth, muscles, ligaments, cartilage, bones, blood vessels and nerves, make up this complex system and operate as a single unit. Hence, when one of these structures encounters a problem, the entire system may become affected. Those with TMJ disorders may have one or more of these conditions: headache, vertigo, tinnitus (ringing in the ear),myofascial pain, degenerative or inflammatory joint disorders and internal derangement of the joint. Myofascial pain is characterized by pain and discomfort in the muscles surrounding the TMJ, particularly the muscles that control jaw function. The pain or discomfort is attributed to the tightening of the muscles. Pain in these areas may also lead to referred pain, or pain in a body part that’s separate from the source.
This is why some TMD patients experience pain in their shoulder, neck and jaw. Meanwhile, in certain cases, TMJ disorders are associated with inflammatory joint disorders like synovitis and rheumatoid arthritis. The inflammation may be characterized by pain, heat, swelling or loss of function. TMJ disorders may also result from problems that interfere with the normal function of the TMJ. These problems may be due to impingement or disc displacement, jaw dislocation or condyle injury. A clicking noise accompanied by pain when the jaw is moved may be an indication of a damaged joint. It is important to note, however, that noise in the jaw alone is not indicative of TMJ disorders.
Signs & Symptoms of TMJ Disorders
Patients with TMJ disorders exhibit a variety of symptoms. Some of the signs and symptoms associated with TMJ disorders include:
* Pain in the chewing muscles and joints when talking, chewing, yawning, etc. The pain may be sharp. It may also be a chronic dull ache for others.
* Radiating pain in the head, face, neck and jaw, Soreness and/or stiffness of jaw muscles.
* Locking of the jaw open or closed,Limited jaw movement or difficulty opening the mouth fully.
* Painful or non-painful clicking, popping or grating sounds in the jaw joint.
* Significant change in dental occlusion or the way the upper and lower teeth fit together,Frequent headaches, earaches, vertigo or tinnitus.
* For some patients, the symptoms ease or disappear over time. Meanwhile, for others, the condition worsens; it even leads to chronic, persistent and long-term pain..
Causes of TMJ Disorders
TMJ disorders may result from a malocclusion or bite problem. Malocclusions can cause force imbalances in the muscles. This may result in muscle pain and/or mal-positioning of the jaw bone in the joint. If the positioning of the bone in the joint is incorrect, this can result in pressure on nerves, blood vessels, muscles or ligaments and tendons. Another leading cause of TMJ disorders is trauma or severe injury to the jaw or TMJ. It may also be brought about by problems related to the joint such as disc displacement or dislocation as a result of ligament damage and muscle incoordination. Degenerative joint disease such as arthritis is known to be a cause of TMJ dysfunction as well. Another contributing factor noted by experts is clenching or grinding the teeth known as bruxism. Stress may cause teeth grinding or clenching which plays a significant role in TMJ disorders.
Also, a sleep breathing disorder called Obstructive Sleep Apnea or more commonly known as Sleep Apnea can be the cause of bruxism while sleeping. Sleep apnea is a potentially life threatening disease and a large percentage of TMJ patients also have this form of sleep disordered breathing. Treatment of sleep apnea in these patients is critical to successful TMJ therapy. There are many cases, however, wherein the cause isn’t known. With this, more studies are being undertaken to further understand TMJ disorders.
Treating of TMJ Disorders
As mentioned, in certain cases, the conditions associated with TMJ disorders progress. Some patients suffer from persistent and debilitating pain. Suffice it to say, when left untreated, TMJ disorders become a hindrance to a healthy and productive life. It has the potential to diminish the quality of life of patients. Thus, addressing TMJ disorders is imperative.Who treats TMJ disorders? There are different specialists authorized to address TMJ disorders. Some dental specialists like oral and maxillofacial surgeons are recognized to treat TMD. These dentists underwent additional trainings to learn about the methods or techniques used to address TMJ disorders.
When it comes to the treatment of TMJ disorders, the NIDCR (National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research) strongly recommends using conservative, non-invasive approaches first. These approaches may include utilizing pain medication and stabilization splints as well as observing self-care practices like applying ice packs on the painful area and eating soft food. If these approaches do not yield positive results, then specialists may consider employing more advanced treatments involving physical medicine modalities. Physical medicine therapies include ultrasound, micro-stimulation, cold laser therapy, and muscle manipulation. Bite adjustment, prosthetic dental work or orthodontics may be necessary as well. In some extreme cases, TMJ surgery may be attempted but this should be considered a last resort therapy.
7 Day Dental: Treatments for TMJ Disorders
It is important to note that accurate diagnosis and expert care are essential in the successful treatment of TMJ disorders. Basically, proper diagnosis should be made to determine the best course of treatment. Furthermore, given the complexity of TMJ disorders, thorough knowledge about and understanding of the problem are necessary for the treatment to be successful. This is why specialists who have a good grasp of TMJ disorders should be employed.
We at 7 Day Dental understand the value of the aforementioned things in addressing TMJ disorders. We are proud to say that we are equipped with state-of-the-art technology which allows us to make accurate diagnoses. Most importantly, we employ dental specialists who aren’t just knowledgeable about TMJ disorders but are also experienced in treating it. Using trusted methods and/or products, our specialists have successfully helped countless patients overcome TMJ disorders.
If you exhibit symptoms associated with TMJ disorders, call us! There’s no need to live in pain! Our dentists who are experienced in treating TMJ disorders are ready to help alleviate this problem and allow you to have a better quality of life!
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