For those not familiar with temporomandibular joints, they are joints located on either side of an individual’s jaw that connect to the skull. These joints function much like a sliding hinge in that they allow individuals to move their jaw in a variety of directions whenever they speak, chew food, yawn, sing, and much more. When one or both of these joints become painful or no longer function as they should, individuals are said to have what is known as a temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder. According to most dentists, including those with Forestwood Dental in Spring, TX, along with severe pain, TMJ symptoms can include earaches, clicking sensations in the jaw, and many other unpleasant symptoms.
What Causes a Temporomandibular Joint Disorder?
Because of the complex nature of the jaw, numerous things can give way to TMJ. Some of the more notable ones include the following:
- Constantly grinding or clenching one’s teeth
- Arthritis of the jaw
- A misaligned jaw or teeth
All of these things can damage the muscles, bones, and ligaments surrounding the temporomandibular joints and lead to a TMJ disorder. Similarly, they can damage the temporomandibular joints themselves, which can also lead to a TMJ disorder. In some cases, these disorders are a byproduct of stress. And this has a lot to do with the fact that stress causes facial and jaw muscles to become tight. The longer these muscles remain in this state, the more likely an individual is to develop a TMJ disorder. Of course, the things that can contribute to TMJ do not end there; trauma or an oral health problem that results in the soft cushion in-between the jaw joints becoming dislocated can cause the disorder as well. Along with pain, earaches, and clicking sensations in the jaw, it is not uncommon for individuals with TMJ to experience the following:
- Popping sounds when opening or closing the mouth
- Restricted movement of the jaw
- Facial swelling
- Jaw dislocation
How Are Temporomandibular Joint Disorders Diagnosed?
While experiencing any of the symptoms detailed in this article might point to TMJ, the only way to know for sure is to be seen by a licensed dentist or orthodontist. After all, many TMJ symptoms are also associated with other oral health problems, such as sinus infections, tooth decay, and gum disease, for example. To diagnose TMJ, a dentist or orthodontist will usually start by first performing a physical examination of the jaw and overall oral cavity, which includes listening for clicking or popping sounds that occur whenever the patient opens or closes their mouth.
In some cases, a dentist or orthodontist will also use the following to assess the overall health and function of the joints, tissues, and other structures that make up the patient’s jaw:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans
- Computed tomography (CT) scans
Many dentists and orthodontists will also go over the patient’s medical history to determine whether or not their symptoms are related to a physical health problem, such as chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia, for example.
More often than not, the symptoms associated with a TMJ disorder can be resolved or significantly ameliorated by performing jaw exercises, eating softer foods, and taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. Studies show that finding ways to cope with stress can help as well. In cases where clenching or grinding one’s teeth is the cause of TMJ, many dentists and orthodontists will recommend wearing a mouthguard. And if a misaligned jaw or teeth are causing TMJ-related symptoms, many practitioners will recommend orthodontic therapy to their patients. Additional dental treatments for patients with a TMJ disorder might include ultrasound therapy or low-level electrical stimulation, both of which can help relieve muscle tightness in the face and other TMJ-related symptoms.
In summary, a TMJ disorder is a painful oral health condition that can affect an individual’s life in many ways. Fortunately, many treatments can provide relief to individuals struggling with this disorder. That said, if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms detailed in this article, consider scheduling a consultation at Forestwood Dental today.