Have you experienced jaw discomfort, clicking sounds, or pain from chewing? If so, TMJ issues may be the culprit.
In this guide, you’ll learn the details of TMJ including:
- A background on TMJ
- Causes & symptoms of TMJ
- TMJ’s diagnosis process
- The routine of TMJ treatment
- Lots more
Ready to learn more?
Let’s dive in.
Intro to TMJ
When you initially feel jaw discomfort, issues with your temporomandibular joints (TMJ) may not be the first thought that comes to mind. Yet, it may well be the culprit to your discomfort.
With each word spoken, as well as food chewed or swallowed, your TMJ gets put to work.
Therefore, although TMJ issues may not be sharp, noticeable point like a broken tooth, its heavy usage over time can add up to significant drawbacks to quality of life.
As a note, syndrome of your temporomandibular joints (TMJ) is often used interchangeably with TMD (temperomandibular joints disorder).
About Your TMJ
Where your upper and lower jaws meet, there is a small ball-and-socket joint. This is your temperomandibular joint (TMJ). If you place a finger in front of your ear, then open and close your mouth, you can can feel it contract and relax.
As you may notice, that crucial joint allows you to open and close your mouth and therfore chew, speak, and perform many other routine tasks. Being used to frequently, even minor misalignment, injury, or inflammation can lead to major discomfort over time.
Not only that, but since your TMJ is part of a complex network of nearby facial muscles, ligaments and bones, a problem with one part of the network can lead to problems in other parts, and vice versa. This adds to the susceptibility of TMJ syndrome, and is part of why it is not an uncommon issue.
Signs of TMJ syndrome include clicking sounds when opening and closing your jaw, chewing pains, swelling on the sides of your face, headaches (even migraines), locked jaw, and more.
Causes of TMJ
There is a wide range of reasons or causes that can lead to TMJ syndrome.
While some of these causes are controllable, others are more natural which can make it more difficult to adopt precautionary measures against them.
Potential Sources of TMJ Syndrome
Bad bites are often due to the misalignment of teeth.
When your teeth are not aligned, the jaw joint has to input extra effort to chew food, resulting in TMJ disorder over time.
Physical trauma accidents (for example, being tackled during a football game or falling off your bike) can damage your TMJ.
If you are not wearing proper faceguards to protect yourself, you are at greater risk of getting facial or jaw injuries.
Spinal misalignment due to poor posture can lead to neck strains which thereby affect your jaw muscles.
Some people have a poor habit of teeth clenching or grinding, particularly while sleeping.
This may be due to a physical reflex or even due to stress.
This can lead to muscle tension in the jaw, and therefore TMJ disorders over time.
This happens when the tissues around your TMJ become inflamed; it is also called synovitis. As a result, it causes pain following lots of jaw movement.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a medical condition that causes damage to the cartilage between joints. This can lead to inflammation in the TMJ.
Natural jaw deformation, stemming from one’s mother or even conditions during childhood, can also lead to jaw muscle strain.
If the deformed jaw is left to its own devices (exacerbated by injury or uncorrected by facial guards), the deformed jaw can form a bad bite, hence resulting in TMJ disorder.
Symptoms of TMJ
TMJ symptoms vary considerably and may appear when you are suffering from any form of TMJ disorder. Symptoms can vary depending on the nature of the disorder, severity of the issue, time since the TMJ disorder first developed, and more.
While certain symptoms may be obvious, such as swelling, others may be be more unnoticeable. As such, you may be the only one to notice them, such as headaches, neck pains, locked jaw, and so on. In addition, there are symptoms that are not even observable by your own self; only your TMJ specialist being able to discern them.
Partial List of TMJ Disorder Symptoms
A partially comprehensive list of noticeable and unnoticeable symptoms may include the following:
- Swelling or inflammation of the joint area
- Locked jaw joint, unable to open mouth
- Sound of clicking and popping when you chew food
- Sound of teeth grinding with each other
- Neck pain
- Back pain
- Sore throat
- Earache or infections
- A ringing sound inside the ear
- Stressed shoulder muscles
- Trouble eating or chewing food
You may not experience just one symptom; often times, several symptoms appear. As well, if you are unable to apply remedies and consult a TMJ specialist, the severity and number of symptoms will likely continue increasing.
Indirect Consequences of TMJ Disorder
Seeking a TMJ specialist to mitigate any of those symptoms early is of course ideal.
Unfortunately, TMJ syndrome is not a one-time pain; without rectifying its root causes, it almost invariably continues and can even worsen in the long run. Thus, the initial discomfort may be mild, or occur on an intervallic basis (with there being pain one week, then none the next, then pain again the following week); though, it’s at these more mild stages that it can be worthwhile to seek treatment, in case the TMJ syndrome worsens.
Eventually, the natural adjustment process to cope with the abnormal temporomandibular joints will affect your posture. It could be anything from shrugged shoulders, spinal misalignment, or hunching. Other than these posture or apparent issues to your body, it may also affect your internal body, such as:
Since your TMJ serves the fundamental tasks of opening and closing your jaw, in certain cases problems with your TMJ can have negative effects on other parts of your body’s functionality that one may not expect. These can include
- Reduced oxygen intake; those suffering from TMJ may be discouraged from taking deep breaths, due to the strain from opening and closing the mouth
- Blood pressure; inadequate air intake can lead to erratic blood pressure
- Spinal pain; being part of a dynamic network of facial muscles, tendons, and bones, TMJ syndrome may encourage people to move their neck around to relieve discomfort, leading to spinal pain in the long term
Diagnosis Process for TMJ
The diagnosis and treatment of TMD falls under the category of dental health called neuromuscular dentistry.
Dr. James Park at Glenbrook Dental has a great deal of experience in this area, having treated TMJ for many patients.
A TMJ neuromuscular specialist may use any of the following, or a combination of more than one technique, to diagnose your TMJ disorder and offer you a solution accordingly.
Methods for TMJ Syndrome Diagnosis
TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Neural Stimulation) is a very specialized diagnosis process. Where a TMJ specialist applies direct but mild electrical pulses. These pulses increase the blood flow to the affected area and let the specialist decide the best alignment for the jaw joints.
Electromyography or EMG helps a dentist study jaw muscle activity. It is studied in both resting as well as active such eating/chewing/movement states. Using the data from this study, the dentist sees where exactly the jaw joint is putting stress on your related muscles and apply treatment accordingly.
Sonography, Electrosonography, or ESG is the process where tiny microphones are placed near your jaw joints. Using the sounds through these microphones, a TMJ specialist determines the performance of a normal versus a dysfunctional jaw joint. Comparing both results, you will get to know the issue, and a solution will be in place accordingly.
Opposite to sonography or ESG, a computerized scan of jaw joints is a visual representation of movement rather than just sounds. Similar to the previous diagnosis technique, the data is collected and compared with a normal jaw joint to see the difference and give the best cure to bring back the jaw joint at the ideal bite position.
The following two techniques are required if you have developed a chronic connection between the jaw joints pain and other pains in your body, such as headaches, back pain, etc.
A CT scan helps to get a proper and detailed image of the bones that are around the jaw joints. Any misalignment is determined through this scan, and treatment will be in place depending upon the results.
An MRI would be required to determine the extent of damage that has been done by the joint misalignment. MRI results can provide the data to see how much the disk or the tissues surrounding the joint disk require treatment.
Diagnosis of the exact source of jaw joints problem is the most critical stage when it comes to having the right treatment. Our TMJ specialists at Glenbrook Dental ensure that all the necessary data is available before initiating a fix. It will not take months to gather the data; only a couple of sitting would be sufficient to start the treatment and fix the TMJ disorders.
Treatment for TMJ
A TMJ specialist such as Dr. James Park will determine a custom-tailored treatment based on the unique conditions of your jaw joint issue.
First, he will determine an optimal bite position for your jaw joint. This may be the bite position where your jaw muscles are most relaxed. You may receive a temporary orthotic prescription to train your jaws to be in that position to relieve the pain.
Once this is achieved, Dr. Park will examine the following possible treatments for a long-term solution. Each technique is different and caters to a different aspects of TMJ disorder.
In order to put the jaw joints in the good bite structure, some dentists may prescribe a neuromuscular orthotic device or a customized mouth guard. You may require to wear them in day or night time to keep your jaw joint safe from bad bite posture.
Small needles are inserted inside your jaw joint in the procedure. These small needles help the fluid to flow through the join and help with the removal of debris or swelling.
Another basic level treatment is where a TMJ specialist may get you a corticosteroid injection inserted into the jaws. It may be helpful with the relief of the pain that you suffer during eating and chewing food.
Almost similar to open joint surgery, TMJ arthroscopy is effective for treating various TMJ disorders. A small tube known as a cannula is placed inside the joint space – a small arthroscope along with small surgical instruments to perform the surgery. The risk of complication or failure in a TMJ arthroscopy is less than the open joint surgery. However, on the same ground, there are many limitations in it to treat TMJ disorders.
It is an indirect treatment for jaw joints, where the surgical procedure is meant for mandible instead of the joint itself. Generally, this procedure helps with the pain and with the locking of the jaw joint.
When the jaw joint pain is a result of structural issues rather than just swelling of tissues, then open joint surgery can be done on the jaw joint to cure the issue. This surgery can take place when the jaw needs repair or even the replacement. It is a high-risk treatment, and your TMJ specialist will discuss all pros and cons beforehand.
It is an extreme level of TMJ disorders where a doctor opts for multiple surgeries to restructure the mouth. All your teeth would be replaced or reshaped to cater to the jaw joint and resulting medical issues.
A TMJ specialist will start with a brief overview of the TMJ issue. The procedure to cure will start with basic remedies such as TMJ splint, pain relief fluids, etc. Gradually the optimal level of treatment will be in place by carefully reviewing the extent of damage done to the join and other related muscles.
In case your TMJ issues are treated with pain relievers, you are good to go and adopt back to the normal routine. However, if the TMJ disorder results in you having a surgical procedure to fix it, you will go through additional post care practices to avoid further complications.
Post-Op Care Recommendations
Dr. James Park will provide you with a detailed instruction set of post-op instructions, which may include some of following information.
Please note that this list is not meant to be comprehensive (rather, simply an add-on or reminder to your specialist’s main instructions and guidelines).
- After the surgery performed on the temporomandibular joint, your head should stay quite upright. Your TMJ specialist will show you how to follow this. This is greatly helps to avoid any post-surgery swelling. You may need to observe this up to 48 hours.
- Use an icepack over the temporomandibular joint area; this helps to lessen pain. Depending upon your pain threshold, you may use icepacks from 24 to 48 hours after the surgery.
- Stay hydrated which can help hasten your recovery time
Also, as you recover, do continue with oral hygiene (so long as it does not interfere with treated areas or Dr. Park’s specific guidelines).
Your diet may range between liquids plus soft food items. Depending upon the severity of the treated issue, your TMJ specialist will advise you accordingly. Soft food include mashed potatoes, eggs, fish, or similar consistency cooked foods.
It is best to avoid avoid red meats and hard foods such as apples.
Dr. Park may also recommend certain exercises to relax, stretch, or strengthen your jaw. These may include exercises like the Goldfish exercises, chin-tucks, side-to-side jaw movements, and so on.
Please be aware that any exercises ought to be recommended by Dr. Park directly, in case TMJ exercises which are not best for your particular case exacerbate any issues.
TMJ also known as temporomandibular joint, is the joint responsible for proper functioning of your jaws. When it comes to oral health, it is not just the shape and health of your teeth. Jaw joints, which are responsible for movement of jaws, are of critical importance.
You may have shiny and brighter strong teeth, but if you face even a slight misalignment of jaw joints, you will suffer a lot of pain and a lot more associated issues. This misalignment of jaw joints is known as temporomandibular joint disorder, also referred to as TMD.
There many symptoms that you may face if you are also suffering from TMJ disorder. It could be anything from the below list, alone or even in combination with more symptoms:
- Jaw pains
- Jaw swelling
- Clicking sound during jaw movement
- Popping sound during jaw movement
- Neck pain
- Shoulder pain
- Pain when opening the mouth
- Pain when chewing food
- Ear pains etc.
Many factors can contribute to the misalignment of TMJ, such as:
- Accident or injury
- Stressed routine
- Excessive food chewing habits
- Dental treatments such as grinding or clenching
Depending upon the problem and cause of the TMJ disorders, you may undergo the following possible treatments:
- Orthodontics, in case it was a bad bite that resulted in the issue.
- Electrical simulation
It is highly recommended to consult a TMJ specialist for an accurate treatment approach, tailored for your situation.
No, TMJ does not always end up on surgery. Depending upon the severity of the issue, aging of the disorder, pains associated with it, etc. all these factors determine how to treat TMJ. Your best advice comes from a TMJ neuromuscular dentist nearby you.
You may opt for home remedies for a day or two in case the TMJ specialist is busy to take your appointment, but priority should be given to a proper medical checkup and treatment prescribed by the doctor.
TMJ disorders result in great pain along with other issues such as the movement of mouth, body, etc. Drugs can be useful in lowering down the scale of the pain and give you temporary relief for a few hours. However, if the underlying issue is left unresolved, then eventually, the painkillers will not play their part either. The intensity of pains will keep on increasing, and inevitably, you will face more stress, discomfort and pain.
For patients residing in Calgary, Dr. James Park at our dental clinic is a reliable choice; he is quite experienced with TMJ, having attended the prestigious Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Dental Studies over several years, focusing on TMJ.
Yes, at the very beginning of the level of TMJ pain, there are home remedies that you can apply. Such acute pain is most probably the result of swollen tissue, and with any of the following home remedies, you may feel better. However, if the pain intensity is high and beyond your acceptable threshold, do not rely on home remedies only.
Here is the list of remedies:
- Let your jaw rest; more movement can contribute to greater pain, so perhaps try lessening your activities
- Avoid stressful tasks and thoughts; rest more so that you can heal quickly
- Apply heat or icepacks to relieve the pain
Self-diagnosis is not recommended at any stage and in any medical condition. If you are going to a painful experience while eating, speaking, yawing, or even general movement of the jaws, visiting a doctor should be a main priority.
Yes, it can causes headaches. It can be the stress caused by the jaw joints, keeping you in discomfort, eventually resulting in headaches.
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