Do you experience jaw pain, headaches, and other painful or disruptive symptoms? Has your doctor not been able to explain these symptoms or provide relief? If so, then you might have a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ). TMJ is a complicated condition that can cause widespread symptoms and can be hard to treat. It is centered at the temporomandibular joints that connect your jaw to your skull, and a neuromuscular dentist can often treat it by restoring proper alignment to your jaw.
TMJ requires specialized training and equipment to treat properly. At Harriman Family Dental, we are lucky to have a partner who has the skills and equipment to treat TMJ at River Edge Dental. If you would like to learn whether TMJ is responsible for your symptoms, please call (845) 783-6466 today for an appointment.
What Is TMJ?
TMJ is a complex condition–or, according to some, a complex constellation of conditions–that we are still trying to understand. TMJ is a disorder that affects the function of the jaw and has effects that radiate through the entire body. The most commonly reported symptoms include:
- Popping or clicking in the jaw
- Limited jaw motion or locked jaw
- Jaw pain
- Face pain
- Tooth wear or damage
- Ringing in the ears or ear pain
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Neck pain
- Shoulder pain
- Back pain
- Tingling and numbness in the fingers
Popping and clicking in the jaw is one of the most directly related jaw effects of TMJ. It’s related to a displaced cushioning disc between the two parts of the temporomandibular joint: your lower jaw and your skull. When this disk is out of place, your jaw joint is not properly cushioned, and it can experience damage.
The displaced disk can eventually prevent you from fully opening your jaw–or even opening your jaw at all.
The most common form of jaw pain in TMJ is sore, aching muscles. That’s because TMJ can often keep your jaw from finding its position of maximum rest, so your jaw muscles remain constantly tense. Jaw pain can also be felt in the jaw joint, or as a sharp, electric pain caused by pressure on nerves. Face pain is typically an extension of jaw pain, resulting from similar and overlapping symptoms.
Headaches related to TMJ are usually tension headaches caused by the tense muscles in the jaw. However, they can also be migraines, caused by an overloading of the trigeminal nerve, the trigger point for migraines as well as the primary control nerve for the jaw and its muscles.
Tooth wear and damage in TMJ are related to improper jaw position that puts excessive force on some teeth or causes overactive muscles to grind the teeth (bruxism).
Ear symptoms in TMJ can relate to pressure of the joint on the temporal bone, which houses the delicate bones and other structures of the inner ear. However, it can also be related to the jaw joint or muscles’ interference with nerves running from the ear to the brain.
Neck pain, shoulder pain, and back pain, all derive from the fact that all our muscles work together. When the jaw muscles aren’t working properly, they can share their dysfunction with other muscles through their working partnerships.
Jaw misalignment can also lead to misalignment of your vertebrae, which can pinch nerves leaving the spine. This most commonly evidences itself as tingling or numbness, and is most often felt in the fingers.
When diagnosing your TMJ, we are not only looking for TMJ, but also trying to determine whether we can provide relief to your symptoms. The TMJ that we can treat is related to misalignment and dysfunction in the jaw joint and its muscles. To diagnose this, we will use detailed imaging of your jaw joint, which may include x-rays, MRIs, and CT scans. We will also track the movement of your jaw to ensure it is able to move smoothly without interruption through its full range of motion. Measurements of your muscle tension will show us if your jaw muscles are carrying extra stress because of dysfunction. Listening to your jaw joint will tell us whether the physical interactions among the components is healthy or not.
When we combine these elements, we will be able to tell whether we can treat your TMJ.
TMJ treatment can come in many phases and types. We avoid invasive treatments whenever possible in favor of noninvasive and reversible ones.
The first stage of TMJ treatment is relaxing your jaw muscles with an electronic massage known as TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation). We do this as part of diagnosis so that we can see how your jaw functions without the excess muscle tension. Some people finds this relieves their symptoms, so all they need are periodic TENS treatments.
For most people, some repositioning of the jaw is necessary. A bite splint, similar to a sports mouthguard can be worn to hold your jaw in the proper position. At first, you might have to wear the mouthguard all day, but eventually you may be able to wear it only at night.
If your mouthguard gives you good results, but you don’t like wearing it, we can perform reconstructive dentistry that builds up your teeth to hold your jaw in the same position as the mouthguard.