3 Tips for Recognizing TMJ Disorders

Published by Dr. Charles Gemmi

A Board Certified Orthodontist and a Diplomate of the American Board of Orthodontics, Dr. Charles Gemmi has been a practicing orthodontist with Orthodontics Limited since 2000 and is a member of the teaching staff at Einstein Medical Center. Orthodontics Limited is a Diamond+ Provider of Invisalign in Philadelphia and Hatboro, PA.

You probably know a friend or family member who has a Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) disorder, but do you really understand what it is? And most importantly would you recognize the symptoms of it if you were to experience it? How do you know if that twinge in the jaw is something serious or not?

Here are 3 tips for recognizing and treating TMJ Disorders:

The TMJ joints are on either side of the back of your jaw and are responsible for the proper movement of the lower mandible. There is also a series of ligaments, nerves and muscles that all work together to help you chew and speak. When there is a disruption in the functioning caused by a bad bite, a bad habit like clenching or grinding of the teeth or trauma, it can lead to a TMJ Disorder.

Look Out for These Symptoms

When you experience pain or discomfort, it is not always easy to know why you are feeling it and what the underlying cause. Symptoms to be on the lookout for include:

  • a popping and clicking sound when you open and close your mouth
  • Stiffness in your jaw, the most severe leading to your jaw locking into position
  • Facial swelling around the joint area that is tender to the touch
  • •Ringing or pain the ear that is not related to an infection.
  • Chronic headaches or migraines
  • Tooth pain or sensitivity
  • Discomfort in the neck, shoulders and upper back

Causes of TMJ disorder range from stress-induced teeth grinding to trauma to structural issues. If you have any of these symptoms make sure you are evaluated for TMJ Disorder right away.

Get Evaluated As Soon As Possible

During your evaluation by a doctor or dentist, they will listen and feel your jaw as you open and close your mouth, observing the range of motion you have. They will also press on areas around the jaw to see if there is any tenderness or soreness.

If they think the underlying issue might be dental, then you will need to get a dental X-ray. A CT scan and a MRI can also be used to get more images of the joints. Sometimes they will also request that a TMJ arthroscopy be done as well. This is when a small tube is inserted into the joint space with a small camera to get a better view of the area.

Treating TMJ Disorder

Though some milder TMJ conditions that are mainly the result of overuse can be resolved on their own, it is always a good idea to get an examination to determine how severe the TMJ dysfunction is. Don’t wait until the pain is so severe that you can’t continue functioning normally.

Treatment for TMJ disorder can vary depending on the severity of the disorder and the root cause. Here are the most common treatments:

  • Most basic treatment includes doing simple muscle exercises and limit the consumption of hard or chewy foods and use compresses to ease the pain and discomfort.
  • Wear an occlusal appliance at night, similar to a night guard, to help reposition the jaw and to keep the upper and lower jaw from grinding into one another.
  • Medications can sometimes help including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and muscle relaxants.
  • Undergo arthrocentesis, a procedure where small needle are inserted into the joint to irrigate the joint and get rid of any inflammation.
  • Get corticosteroid injections to reduce pain and inflammation.
  • If the underlying issue is a bite issue, than orthodontic treatment like braces can help readjust the alignment and reduce symptoms.
  • If it seems like more a structural problem, you might need open-joint surgery.

If your TMJ symptoms are caused by bite issues, then orthodontic treatment is the best option for fixing the problem and getting relief. When your teeth are realigned, your TMJ should also shift back into its proper place too.

Most common orthodontic treatments include traditional metal braces and Invisalign aligners. Metal braces are permanently adhered to your teeth and can only be taken off by the orthodontist at the end of treatment. During the treatment, the orthodontist tightens the wires to help shift the teeth. With this type of treatment, there are certain food and drink restriction. You may have to wear them for 3 or more years depending on how your treatment goes.

Invisalign aligners are clear plastic aligners that can be easily removed. They can be removed to eat and to brush and floss your teeth. Treatment includes a new set of aligners every two weeks as your teeth shift into proper alignment.

Other treatment options include lingual braces that go on the back of your teeth and tooth-colored ceramic braces. While these like Invisalign are less noticeable than the traditional metal braces, they have their own pros and cons.

Not all orthodontists are skilled in lingual braces so you might have to look around for someone who specializes in it. It requires special wire work. Also because when we speak our tongue hits the back of our teeth, you might have a little problem with speech at first until they adjust to the lingual braces. You will need to take extra care brushing and flossing because it is a little more challenging to clean the brackets and wires when they are on the backs of the teeth.With the tooth-colored ceramic braces, you will need to watch what you eat and drink because the brackets might stain more easily.

No matter how you choose to solve your TMJ, it is important to do your research and to consult with a few orthodontists before making any final decisions. Factors like cost, length of treatment and number of restrictions can all play a role.

Just make sure you don’t put off treatment until your condition is a lot more severe. Beside the TMJ getting worse, you will also be at greater risk of cavities and gum disease because it will be more difficult to practice good oral hygiene when you are in a lot of pain. Want to know more about recognizing and treating TMJ Disorder, call Orthodontics Limited today.

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