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Temporomandibular joint disorder or “TMD” (also called TMJD) is a painful and debilitating condition that affects one or both TMJ joints. Although it’s common to experience occasional TMJ pain, not everyone suffers from TMD. But if you do, you’ll be glad to learn that non-surgical treatments are available.
Understanding the TMJ
The TMJ is located where your lower jaw (mandible) attaches, just in front of your ears. Each day it moves thousands of times. You rely on it for talking, smiling, and of course eating. But if the joint isn’t functioning properly, all of those activities can be difficult and painful.
Causes of TMD
TMJ disorder can be attributed to a variety of factors. Some of the more common are:
- Misaligned or crooked teeth
- A traumatic injury
- Bruxism (clenching and grinding)
- Sleep apnea
- Anatomical irregularities
- Bone disease
TMJ Disorder Symptoms
You might have TMD if you have difficulty opening your mouth, experience pain when chewing, or notice popping and clicking noises coming from the joint. When you open and close, your jaw may deviate to one side. Our dentist can evaluate your joints both through palpation as well as on a full-mouth X-ray to determine what may be going on inside of them.
Treatments for TMD
Depending on the cause of your TMJ disorder, you may find relief from a number of different treatments. Some of the most effective, non-surgical therapies for TMD include:
Bite Splints — Bruxism (clenching and grinding) causes your TMJ to tense up more than it’s supposed to. All of the strain to your joint on a repetitive basis can damage the tissues around your TMJ. Pain often reaches through your face, scalp, neck, shoulders, and upper back. Fortunately, something as simple as a bite splint can help to break the cycle. Splints such as nightguards train your TMJ to relax and prevent the muscles from fully engaging. If you see wear patterns on your enamel or have broken teeth, you may need a nightguard.
Orthodontic Therapy — The way your teeth and jaws bite together are one of the biggest factors impacting TMJ disorder. If they’re misaligned, your joint will need to move irregularly to bite down all the way. Each time you eat, those abnormal chewing motions can gradually strain your joints. In turn, TMD may develop. That’s why orthodontic therapy such as braces or Invisalign can be helpful in treating and preventing TMD flare-ups. Adult braces are a holistic option for people looking to relieve TMJ pain without medications.
Physical Therapy and Massage — Any time a joint is strained or not functioning properly, physical therapy can potentially help you work on exercising it in a way that moves correctly. Many times, our bodies learn incorrect patterns and revert to them out of habit or other musculoskeletal factors. Therapy and massage can naturally work to combat chronic TMJ disorder cases.
Injectables — Cosmetic injectables such as Botox are also FDA approved for treating symptoms of TMD. Since they work as a natural muscle relaxer, the medication can be injected around the TMJ and facial muscles to alleviate tension and joint strain. Results last for about six months.
Warm, Moist Heat — Moist heat works wonders for sore joints and muscles. Apply it for 20 minutes at a time as needed.
Anti-Inflammatory Pain Relievers — If you’re in pain, the best type of over-the-counter medication to use is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) such as ibuprofen or Motrin. Always take medication as prescribed. If you find that you’re relying on it day after day, be sure to speak with our provider about a more long term solution.
Neuromuscular Dentistry — From calibrating the biting relationship between teeth, to stimulation with electrodes to relax muscles, neuromuscular dentistry aims to create a harmonious relationship between your bones and soft tissues.
Replacing Missing Teeth — When you’re forced to chew on one side of your mouth because of missing teeth, your joints work unevenly. By replacing missing teeth with something like a bridge or dental implant, we can help you redistribute your biting patterns and naturally ease the tension on the TMJ that’s hurting. This approach is often used as part of full mouth restoration cases.
In Pain? Schedule an Evaluation
We offer TMJ screenings as part of every dental exam. So, if you suspect that you have TMD or find it difficult to open your mouth, please let us know. A brief evaluation can give you the answers you need to treat TMJ pain easier than you might have thought.
Call us today to reserve an appointment.