Your temporomandibular joint, or TMJ for short, connects your jawbone to your skull by acting like a sliding hinge. You have one on each side of the jaw, and TMJ disorders arise when something goes wrong with this joint. Issues with the TMJ can cause pain in your jaw joint and the muscles that control it.
A variety of causes are at fault for TMJ disorders, including genetics, arthritis, and injuries to the jaw. Issues can result as a combination of any of these causes as well. While it’s possible to develop a TMJ disorder by clenching and grinding your teeth, usually during sleep, many people do it and never develop one.
The good news is that TMJ disorders can be managed, and are often temporary. Treatment options range from self-care habits to surgical options in rare cases.
Common signs and symptoms of TMJ disorders include:
- Sore or stiff muscles around the jaw
- Frequent headaches and neck aches
- Pain when you clench your teeth
- The jaw clicking, popping, grating, catching, or locking when you open your mouth
- Difficulty or pain when eating or yawning
- Teeth that don’t touch when you bite
- An uneven bite
- Difficulty using teeth to bite or tear food
- Sensitive, loose, broken, or worn teeth
- Pain in one or both temporomandibular joints
- Aches around your ear
- Aching facial pain
Many of these can happen for plenty of other reasons, but if you notice any of them persisting, it’s a good idea to have your jaw looked at.
Risk factors for TMJ include:
- Many types of arthritis
- Jaw injuries
- Long-term grinding and clenching of your teeth
- Connective tissue diseases
- Diagnosing a TMJ Disorder
We can set up a physical exam to determine whether you have a TMJ disorder. During this exam, we’ll listen to your jaw as it moves, and feel the joint as you open and close your mouth. By observing the range of motion in your jaw we can more easily tell whether there’s a real problem or not. Pressing on areas around the jaw to determine any sites of pain gives us a better idea as well. If we do suspect a problem, it’s possible that you will need dental X-rays or a CT scan to provide detailed images of the bones and the joint.
Treatment Options for TMJ Disorders
There are a wide range of treatment possibilities. After an evaluation, we’ll determine the right course of treatment for you. Our first goals are to relieve the muscle spasms and joint pain. We’ll often prescribe a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, or muscle relaxant to help. Steroids can be helpful as well, and can be injected directly into the joints. Self-care options can also be very helpful. Those include:
- Resting your jaw
- Keeping your teeth apart as much as possible
- Eating a soft diet
- Applying ice and heat to your jaw
- Exercising your jaw
Physical therapy treatments can be used to manage stress to the jaw. We may also use the aid of a clear, plastic appliance called a splint that fits over your teeth to help keep them apart. Often worn during sleep when clenching and grinding are most common, this splint, or nightguard, helps relax the muscles, therefore reducing pain. Another clear plastic appliance, called an anterior positioning appliance, works to move your jaw forward which relieves pressure and helps to reposition the disk. You may need to wear this appliance 24 hours a day to help your jaw heal.
Botox can also be used as a TMJ treatment. When injected into the facial muscles causing TMJ disorder, it helps to relieve jaw tension therefore reducing or eliminating headaches, locking jaw, and pain. Most patients notice improvement within 1-2 days after treatment, but it may take up to a week in some cases.
Surgical options are rarely necessary, but are available for extreme cases. Dr. Shahriari prefers to reserve this solution for patients who are unable to open their jaw, have a dislocated jaw, have severe degeneration of their jawbones, or if the above TMJ treatments have not helped.
Don’t wait if you’re experiencing pain around your jaw. The sooner we can perform an exam, the sooner we can find a treatment. Please contact us online or call us at 404-649-5536 to reach our Cumming location, or 404-491-8943 to reach our Buckhead location.