Understanding Temporomandibular Disorders
The phrase ‘temporomandibular joint’ is very long so it is often abbreviated to TMJ. In many cases it is not clear what’s behind temporomandibular joint disorders, but sometimes pain or discomfort can be attributed to a problem with the muscles or joint itself. Some possibilities include overuse of the jaw, an inflammatory problem such as arthritis or an injury to the jaw.
Factors like stress might cause you to clench your jaw and grind your teeth while you sleep, causing the muscles to be overworked and resulting in TMJ pain. Some people experience movement between the jaw socket and the disc, which can cause pain.
What Are The Symptoms Of Temporomandibular Joint Disorder?
TMJ pain is only one of a few symptoms that indicate you may have TMD. Pain may not be limited to the joint though, and it may spread to include other parts of the face including the neck, shoulders and ears.
Discomfort or TMJ pain when opening your jaw
TMD can cause difficulty and pain when trying to open your jaw wide.
Popping and clicking sounds
Popping and clicking sounds may be audible, without or without TMJ pain when using the temporomandibular joint. Your dentist will listen to any sounds your jaw might make and also make sure that your jaw doesn’t lock.
Other body symptoms that may co-present with these include feelings of tiredness or heaviness in your face, headaches, dizziness, earache, ringing in your ears (tinnitus) and pain in the upper shoulders.
One important consequence of having TMD is that dental hygiene may be painful or uncomfortable. Even so, it’s really important to modify your dental hygiene routine to make sure that you are still brushing and flossing twice-daily, and visiting your dentist every six months.
Remember to communicate your discomfort to your dentist- he or she may be able to help you. Make sure you use a soft bristled toothbrush and change to a water flosser if it is painful to open your jaw wide.
What Can You Expect From A Consultation?
Your sleep dentist will first take a complete medical history and try to rule out other causes, which may result in similar symptoms – like gum disease, tooth decay and sinus problems.
He will also perform a physical exam, testing the functionality of your jaw and listening to any sounds it might make.
He may take some x rays of your head, to get a closer look at your temporomandibular joint, and inspect your bite muscles.
If your dentist suspects that there is a problem he or she will refer you for more tests.
Treatment Options For Temporomandibular Joint Disorder
It’s worth noting that some temporomandibular disorders will self resolve without treatment in time. But if the TMJ pain gets worse or persists, you will need to consider some form of treatment.
Using an oral splint
Oral splints and mouth guards can take the pressure off the temporomandibular joint when used correctly. At Melbourne Dental Sleep Clinic we use high quality oral splints and mouthguards which can be worn at night, allowing patients to get a full and relaxing night’s sleep.
Sometimes it is possible to strengthen weak jaw muscles using specifically targeted jaw exercises. They may help to stretch and strengthen the jaw, reduce joint clicking and encourage healing from injury, if relevant. According to the results of a 2010 Study in the Journal of Dental Research doing jaw exercise may help to increase the range the jaw can open to. You shouldn’t do the exercises when you are in pain or if you are experiencing inflammation. It’s also advisable to start slowly and increase as you go along.
Pain relief medication
Some patients benefit from pain medication, anti-inflammatories or muscle relaxants if their tmj pain is especially bad. Medication treats symptoms and should be combined with therapies to ensure that the jaw muscles are strengthened and not overworked. Sometimes injections into the joint can relieve inflammation.
If teeth grinding and clenching of the jaw is causing your jaw pain, it may have caused some damage and wear to your teeth. You may need to have crowns or restorations replaced. Sometimes having alignment issues can cause teeth grinding and/or TMJ pain, and sometimes correcting the alignment issue can alleviate your jaw pain.
Make lifestyle changes
Making lifestyle changes should be incorporated into your treatment plan to compliment other treatments you are having. This includes quitting habits like nail biting, chewing on gum, limiting big jaw movements like yawning and practising good posture.
Other lifestyle changes may include eating soft foods (and avoiding hard, crunchy foods), or using heat or cold therapy for pain relief. You don’t have to make this dietary change permanent – you could follow a soft diet for a week or so, to give your jaw a chance to recover and evaluate whether your symptoms improve. Specifically, moist heat has shown some efficacy in treating pain in the temporomandibular joint.
General relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, massage and yoga are always useful and could be a useful alternative to pain relief and muscle relaxing medication.
Do you need help with treatment for TMJ jaw pain? There’s no reason to suffer in silence if you’re experiencing problems or pain in your temporomandibular joint. Please contact us as soon as possible for an appointment: