Understanding TMJ: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

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TMJ Disorders

Understanding TMJ: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

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What is TMJ Disorder?

TMJ Disorder, also known as Temporomandibular Joint Disorder or TMD, refers to a group of conditions that cause pain and dysfunction in the jaw joint and the muscles controlling jaw movement. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and surrounding muscles are among the strongest and busiest in your body. They help you chew, swallow, and talk; making it unsurprising that this area can sometimes struggle to keep up with everything you need it to do!

There are many TMJ symptoms and causes. This guide will help you learn more about TMJ, how an orthodontist can assist with a personalized treatment plan and ways to manage or reduce pain.

The Prevalence of TMJ Disorder

Canadian Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons estimates that up to 30% of the population lives with a TMJ-related issue, making it the second most common cause of facial or dental pain after toothaches. If you're suffering from pain in your jaw, face, head, neck, or shoulders, it's crucial to consult with a dentist or orthodontist to determine whether a TMJ disorder causes your pain and design a course of treatment to alleviate your discomfort.

What Causes TMJ?

There are various reasons you might experience pain in your temporomandibular joint and surrounding area, but the most common causes include:

  • Stress: Anxiety or stress can lead to teeth grinding or clenching and muscle contraction, causing discomfort and perpetuating a cycle of anxiety, pain, and tension.

  • Bruxism (teeth grinding) or clenching: Excessive clenching or grinding can strain your temporomandibular joint and surrounding areas, exacerbating TMJ disorder symptoms.

  • Malocclusions: Poorly aligned jaws prevent your teeth from making proper contact, stressing your facial and head muscles and straining your temporomandibular joint.

  • Injury: Trauma, such as whiplash or sports injuries, is common in TMJ disorders.

  • Disease: Inflammatory diseases like arthritis or IBS and chronic pain disorders are associated with TMJ discomfort.

Your orthodontist will work with you to identify your TMJ discomfort's possible causes and triggers.

TMJ Disorder Treatment Options

Because every patient's TMJ disorder is unique, treatment varies for each individual. Some patients can be treated with massage, physiotherapy, and diet, while more complex cases may require splints, braces, or jaw surgery.

Treatment with a Splint: A TMJ splint is a small, clear appliance that helps relax the muscles and ligaments in your jaw and face, minimizing tension caused by bruxism, clenching, or other jaw problems. It can also protect your teeth from further wear and adjust your bite to a more optimal position.

Treatment with Braces or Invisalign: Braces and Invisalign reposition the teeth to discourage grinding and clenching, moving them to a preferable position for your jaw, promoting long-term harmony among the jaw, temporomandibular joint, and surrounding structures.

Managing TMJ Pain

Living with TMJ pain or discomfort can be very unpleasant. For the majority of our patients with TMJ pain, we recommend a splint. A splint is an orthodontic appliance that is worn all the time. It helps to relax the muscles in your face and jaws, and it provides support for your lower jaw to minimize the pain you're experiencing. It's possible that some patients with very complex cases might require braces, and eventually even surgery.

There are a number of ways to manage the pain in the jaws, neck and head that is associated with TMJ disorders. Here are some of the most highly recommended methods.

Mild Pain Relievers

Taking a mild pain reliever should help to reduce any swelling or aching in your joints. Aspirin, Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen can also be effective if you're experiencing discomfort in areas other than your jaw, like your neck or shoulders. If you are unsure, your orthodontist or pharmacist can recommend the best product and the correct dosage.

Physiotherapy and Massage

You could also try physiotherapy or massage to help the muscles in your face relax, leading to reduced pain over your course of treatment. A physiotherapist will also provide you with exercises you can do at home to help normalize the muscle activity in your jaw, and improve how your muscles and joints work together.

Heat and Ice

Using moist heat or ice can also reduce swelling and alleviate pain. Some patients find that their pain is minimized more effectively with one or the other, so we always recommend experimenting using a covered ice pack or a heating pad that's been wrapped in a warm, damp cloth. Ice will reduce any swelling, and heat will help to relax your tense muscles. You can also alternate between the heat and cold, using each for ten minutes at a time. When using heat or ice, it's important to be consistent as it will require dedication to have a long-lasting effect.

Soft Foods

By eating soft foods, you'll avoid exacerbating the symptoms and putting further strain on your temporomandibular joints. We know it can be frustrating to remove some of your favourite foods from your diet, but when you avoid crunchy, chewy, or dense foods you'll experience less pain and discomfort. And you might even discover lots of new softer foods to enjoy!

We recommend adding stews, yogurt, rice, casseroles, and cooked vegetables into your diet, and avoiding large pieces of raw vegetables, nuts, bread, thick sandwiches, oatmeal, gum, or steak. Anything that requires a lot of chewing or causes you to strain to open your mouth wide, like whole apples or hamburgers, should be removed from your diet--at least temporarily.

TMJ Joint Consultation

TMJ disorder can be a source of significant discomfort and can affect daily activities. Early diagnosis and treatment can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life. If you suspect you have TMJ disorder, schedule a FREE consultation at your local docbraces office today.

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