What exactly is TMJ and what does it mean to you?
We often have patients say “I have TMJ” and it’s true. Nearly everyone does have TMJ – it stands for Temporomandibular Joint…it’s your jaw joint and we all have them! But, some people have pain in their TMJ – pain in their jaw. TMJD or Temporomandibular Joint Disorder is a misalignment within the intricate network of muscles, bones and joints connecting the skull and lower jaw. When the jaw is awry, the joints and muscles tend to compensate by moving into a new position, and the jawbone grates on other bones and soft tissues. This grating can cause headaches, muscle tension and outright pain. For some, the pain is debilitating.
Diagnosis of true TMJD can be difficult. For some, the symptoms mimic the symptoms of other ailments such as a sinus infection, migraines, or even a tumor. With modern technologies such as our Galileos 3-D scan, our dentists are able to see the joint and determine the health of it. They can also see the sinuses to rule out infection there. For healthy patients, we recommend this scan to be done every 5 years to monitor changes in the head and oral cavity. But, for any patient who experiences tooth pain, frequent or severe headaches, jaw pain or freezing of the jaw joint, this scan may be recommended as a diagnostic tool to rule out some problems and pinpoint the actual cause for the symptoms.
The treatment for those patients who have TMJD is varied depending on each situation. Some patient may simply require a muscle relaxant and massage therapy to ease the muscle tensions. Others may benefit from a minor reshaping of some of the teeth to ensure a proper fit top-to-bottom when biting down and fitting the teeth together. Many of our patients benefit from wearing a custom-made sleep appliance to help ensure excess strain is not put on the jaw muscle while you sleep. Clenching and grinding during sleep creates an overuse of the muscles in the jaw and makes the symptoms worse and can wear out the actual joint over time. BOTOX is a muscle relaxant injection that is often thought of as a tool for erasing wrinkles and crows feet but it is very successful for relaxing the jaw muscle and relieving chronic pain in the joints.
Don’t be afraid to mention your symptoms to your dentist at your next visit. Most treatments are minor, noninvasive and not terribly expensive. Rare cases require surgery in the jaw joint or reconstruction of the teeth, so chances are, if you experience jaw pain, the solution is probably an easy one.
Remember that the longer the symptoms go on untreated, the longer it takes for treatment to give relief. And, the more likely a major service will be needed to correct the issue because the longer the joint is irritated, the more damage is being done to the tissue and bone over time.
If you experience chronic headaches, migraines, jaw pain on one or both sides, freezing of the jaw on one side when you open or close your mouth, aching in the cheeks or sinuses, overall sensitivity to hot or cold in all or most of your teeth, or tooth pain that presents in the morning when you first wake up but goes away during the day, these are all symptoms that are clues to possible issues in the jaw joint and we can help you find relief.