Millions of Americans suffer from chronic facial and neck pain as well as severe, recurring headaches. In some cases, this pain is due to Temporomandibular Disorder, also known as TMD.
Your temporomandibular joints, or TMJs, connect your lower jawbone to your skull. These joints get a lot of use throughout the day as you speak, chew, swallow, and yawn. Pain in and around these joints can be unpleasant and may even restrict movement.
These joints are designed to be flexible, allowing the lower jaw to slide and rotate regularly. This range of motion is what allows you to speak, chew, swallow and yawn throughout your day. However, this also means these joints get a lot of use in your day — any pain in and around these joints can be unpleasant and may even restrict your movement and daily activities.
When these joints cause pain or other symptoms that negatively affect an individual’s range of motion, this is known as temporomandibular disorder. Colloquially, this is also called TMJ.
Symptoms of TMD
The physical symptoms of TMD include:
- Pain in the jaw area, ranging from mild to extreme
- Pain, ringing, or stuffiness in the ears
- Frequent TMJ headaches or neck aches
- Clicking or popping sound when the jaw moves
- Muscle spasms in the jaw area
- A change in the alignment of top and bottom teeth
- Locked jaw or limited opening of the mouth
If you notice that you are experiencing any of these symptoms, let your doctor know at your next appointment. Your doctor can help determine if you have TMD and create a customized treatment plan to help relieve your symptoms. If left untreated, many of these symptoms, like nerve pain and damage, may become permanent.
Causes of TMD
According to the American Dental Association, more than 15 percent of American adults suffer from facial pain, including jaw pain. Though most TMD sufferers fall within the ages of 20 and 40, the condition affects people of all ages. This is primarily because TMD can be the result of many genetic, behavioral and age-related conditions. A few potential causes of TMD include:
- Teeth grinding or jaw clenching as a result of a stressful lifestyle
- Age-related wear on the jaw bone and TMJ
- Erosion of the disk involved in the joint
- Arthritic damage to the cartilage in the joint
- Damage due to a blow or impact to the joint
- Stress due to the use of braces
Often, younger patients with TMD feel their braces caused these issues, which may be the case. However, many people get TMD without ever having braces. Symptoms usually wax and wane regardless of whether braces are worn. To determine the cause of an individual’s symptoms, it’s best to visit with an orthodontist or dentist.
Pain Not Associated With TMD
If you feel that you might have TMD, it is always important to see your dentist and receive an exam. However, not all jaw pain is associated with TMD, and if you do not have TMD there are many different preventive steps you can take to maintain a healthy, strong smile.
- Relax your face — “Lips together, teeth apart”
- Avoid grinding your teeth
- Avoid all gum chewing
- Don’t cradle the phone receiver between your head and shoulder — either use a headset or hold the receiver to your ear
- Chew food evenly on both sides of your mouth
- Do not sit with your chin rested on your hand
- Practice good posture — keep your head up, back straight, and shoulders squared
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above and are concerned that you’re a candidate for TMD treatment, please contact our office for a consultation.
TMJ Orthodontic Treatment Options
If you are diagnosed with the condition, orthodontists offer several TMJ treatment options. The specific type of treatment will often depend on the health of the patient, their medical history, preferences and tolerances, and the extent and cause of the disorder, but a variety of options are available. A few potential treatment options for TMD include:
- Stress management techniques to reduce the clenching and grinding of the jaw
- Pain medications to help relieve joint pain
- Mouth exercises to strengthen supporting muscles
- Orthodontics for TMJ like mouth guards to protect against grinding
- Splint therapy to improve long-term joint stability and function
An Orthodontist Can Help
Depending on the cause of your TMJ, orthodontists can provide treatments that could help alleviate some of your symptoms. If you have questions about TMD or are looking for an orthodontics provider to help you with your facial pain, Uniquely You Orthodontics can help. We will be happy to answer any of your questions and set you up with an appointment to determine the cause of your pain and treatment options. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.