Centerville patients ask, “What is TMJ and how can a dentist help with diagnosis and treatment?”
Do you clench or tighten your jaw? Clenching the jaw may be the result of stress, an overworked jaw, or an injury. It can result in jaw pain, tenderness, or TMJ issues. In Centerville, Dr. Daniel Cobb of Alex Bell Dental explains what TMJ is and how a dentist can help. Dr. Cobb understands the workings of the jaw and can diagnose problems with the joint. Early diagnosis and treatment are important for relieving jaw stress.
What is TMJ?
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint near the ears where the temporal bones and jaw meet. The joint allows the jaw to move up and down and side to side. A healthy joint function smoothly. It moves without vibrations, clicking, or pain. When an injury occurs, the joint no longer moves smoothly because degeneration, tears, or displacement cause friction and vibrations. Trauma leads to joint dysfunction and temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD).
Although each patient is unique and may have different symptoms, the most common symptoms of TMD may include the following:
- Pain near the ears
- Popping sounds when opening or closing the mouth
- Locked jaws
- Pain when yawning
- Discomfort around the ears when chewing
Diagnosis and treatments
Patients who are experiencing jaw pain or symptoms of TMJ problems should seek help from a dentist. Dr. Cobb can assess the jaw to find the cause of the discomfort. A dental appointment for TMJ pain may include a discussion of the patient’s current and past medical history, lifestyle, and symptoms and when they started. A thorough examination of the teeth, bite, and jaw is performed. X-rays may be done to determine the severity of the condition.
As with any dental issue, early diagnosis is important. When the jaw joint does not function correctly, the rest of the body is affected. For patients with TMD, diagnosing and treating the problem early means less pain so they can eat, speak, and yawn without discomfort.
Before the problem can be treated, the underlying cause of TMJ pain must be identified. Common causes include overworking the joint, grinding the teeth, stress, arthritis, and bruxism. Once the cause has been discovered, a treatment plan is created. Treatment plans are based on the patient’s individual needs. The goal is to relieve stress on the joint to lessen pain and inflammation. Treatment plans may involve a single therapy or a combination of treatments.
Commonly used treatments include:
- A Night guard or oral appliance
- Cold compresses
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Lifestyle changes
- Appointments with a chiropractor
- Massage therapy
Patients who only have minor discomfort or dysfunction of the joint may find relief just by resting the jaw. This may include eating soft foods, avoiding sticky treats like chewing gum, and not overextending the jaw. Training the jaw to use smaller movements may also help. For more immediate relief, cold compresses and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications can help lessen discomfort.
Lifestyle changes such as relaxation techniques to channel and relieve stress are helpful. Many people hold their stress in their jaws, especially if they clench the jaws. By finding an outlet for the stress, it can relieve the pressure, tightness, and discomfort. A chiropractor can help align the spine. With the spine properly aligned, patients often notice less pain around the jaw joint. Similarly, massage therapy helps to relax the muscles and reduces tension in the neck, back, and shoulders.
If symptoms persist or patients have more severe symptoms, an oral appliance may be needed. Similar to a mouth guard, this discreet oral appliance is worn at night to protect the teeth and prevent additional jaw strain. Many patients grind their teeth at night, often without being aware of it. An oral appliance prevents grinding and relieves stress on the jaw.
The goal of TMJ treatments is to balance the bite and to lessen the strain on the jaw. Once the bite is balanced, there is less pressure. The muscles around the jaw relax and patients notice less pain and discomfort. They no longer have headaches, ear pain, or joint tenderness. Patients can perform routine actions of eating, speaking, and yawning without pain.
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