Frequently Asked Questions About TMJ and TMJ Treatment

If you have just been diagnosed with a TMJ disorder, or suspect you may have one, you may have a lot of questions. Unfortunately, there is no “magic pill” for TMJ to make it go away and be cured. However, there is TMJ treatment available so that you can live a normal, pain-free life. We have compiled the most frequently asked questions regarding TMJ into one article so that you can feel assured that your TMJ can be treated successfully. Keep reading to learn more about TMJ, TMJ treatment, and what may happen if you leave TMJ untreated.

What is TMJ?

TMJ is an acronym that stands for temporomandibular joint. Your temporomandibular joints are located on both sides of your face, just in front of your ears. The TMJs connect your lower jawbone to your skull and assist in movements like chewing and speaking. TMD stands for temporomandibular joint disorder. This refers to any dysfunction of the TMJ. Many people use the terms TMJ and TMD interchangeably.

TMJ dysfunction occurs when the muscles and ligaments around your jaw joints become inflamed or irritated. The condition may be acute or chronic, and the resulting pain may be mild or severe.

What Causes TMJ?

There are many causes of TMD/TMJ. This is what makes it not so cut-and-dry to treat. Your treatment protocol depends largely on the cause of your TMJ symptoms. Some of the many causes of TMJ include:

  • Trauma
  • Injury
  • Whiplash
  • Braces
  • Dental work
  • Stress
  • Teeth grinding
  • Dental malocclusions (poor bite)
  • Missing or bad teeth
  • Muscle abuse/overuse
  • Inflammation
  • Disease

What are the Symptoms of TMJ?

The symptoms of TMJ can vary widely. Depending on the cause of your TMJ, its severity, and how long it’s been going on, you may display all of the symptoms of TMJ or only some.

Symptoms can include:

  • Pain around your ears
  • Pain in your jaw, tooth, face, neck, and/or shoulders
  • Clicking or popping of your jaw (jaw instability)
  • Inability to open your mouth in a normal range of motion
  • Grinding your teeth
  • Ringing or fullness in your ears
  • Migraine headaches or any other type of headaches
  • Sinus pressure and lack of draining

Does TMJ Cause Ear Pain?

Yes. One of the biggest complaints regarding TMJ is the fact that it can cause ear pain, ranging from mild to severe.

According to the TMJ Association, earache and perceived hearing loss are symptoms frequently reported by patients with TMJ problems. However, the problems may or may not be related to a TMJ disorder. Because of the proximity of the TMJ to the ear, it is possible that joint pain is mistakenly reported as an earache. Pain arising from the lateral pterygoid muscle (myofascial pain) may also feel like an earache. However, a patient may have a problem in the ear producing the pain.

Does TMJ Cause Migraines?

Yes. The most common TMD complaint is migraine headache accompanied by jaw, head, neck, and/or shoulder pain. Migraine headaches usually start in the head’s forehead, temples, or back. Those who clench or grind their teeth may also develop migraine-like headaches. Although most migraines and TMJ headaches have various causes, they all have one thing in common: dysfunction of the jaw’s temporomandibular joint.

Most migraine headaches have two common attributes:

  • Tenderness in the muscles of the jaw, head, neck, and face; these “hot spots” in the muscles—called trigger points—create pain that causes migraine headaches and referral pain patterns
  • Clenching of the teeth (or bruxism)

Migraines can be very difficult to live with and can regularly disrupt daily life. If you suffer from frequent migraines, there could be a chance that you are suffering from a TMJ issue.

Does TMJ Require Surgery?

Not necessarily. Surgery is generally not the first course of action when treating TMJ disorders. However, depending on the cause of your TMJ disorder, TMJ treatment may include surgery upfront. This can include cases of severe dental issues or poor dental health.

Are TMJ and Sleep Apnea Related?

It is not uncommon for individuals who have TMD to also suffer from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is caused by an obstruction of the airway. If the obstruction of the airway is due to TMJ, both can be successfully treated simultaneously. By biologically expanding the upper and/or lower jaw, Dr. Gorman can help you treat nighttime obstructions responsible for sleep apnea while achieving proper occlusion and an end to TMJ issues.

According to the National Library of Medicine, an emergent body of evidence suggests that OSA is associated with chronic pain disorders, including temporomandibular disorder (TMD) (Cunali et al., 2009; Smith et al., 2009). TMD is a musculoskeletal disorder characterized by persistent pain in the temporomandibular joint, periauricular region, and masticatory muscles. Current evidence of a relationship between OSA and TMD is limited to descriptive findings in clinical samples (Cunali et al., 2009; Smith et al., 2009) that, while suggestive of association, cannot estimate the strength of association or determine the temporal order of the association between OSA and pain.

Can TMJ Resolve On Its Own?

No. If left untreated, TMJ disorder may persist forever. It will never resolve on its own. In fact, it will likely worsen over time. This will cause symptoms to increase in severity, causing more health issues.

Left untreated, TMJ disorder can lead to significant health problems, including chronic pain and inflammation. It can also cause bite issues, tooth erosion, and long-term conditions such as sleep apnea, insomnia, depression, and anxiety.

What Should You Avoid If You Have TMJ?

Certain activities (called triggers) strain the TMJ, making symptoms worse.

Some things to avoid include:

  • Don’t eat hard or chewy foods. These include nuts, pretzels, popcorn, chips, gum, caramel, gummy candies, carrots, whole apples, hard breads, and even ice.
  • Reschedule routine dental visits, like cleanings, if your jaw aches. If you have severe pain, call your healthcare provider.
  • Support your jaw when yawning. Put a fist under your jaw when you feel a yawn coming on. Apply gentle pressure. This helps prevent wide, painful yawns.
  • Don’t do any activity that hurts. This includes nail biting, yelling, and singing.

How Can I Alleviate TMJ Pain At Home?

Living with TMJ pain daily can be debilitating and disrupt your daily life. Even if you are receiving treatment for TMJ, triggers and other factors can cause it to flare up. Some of the ways you can manage TMJ pain even while receiving treatment to help give you immediate relief include:

  • Choose to eat soft foods throughout the day. Chewing can strain the TMJ; on some days, when your symptoms are especially painful and persistent, you may not feel the desire or ability to chew. Some foods to keep in mind include scrambled eggs, yogurt, oatmeal, soup, smoothies, pasta, mashed potatoes, bananas, ice cream, hamburger meat, and more.
  • Cut hard foods into smaller pieces. If you are in a situation where you can not avoid hard foods, cut your food into small pieces so that your jaw doesn’t have to work as hard. Do not bite directly into apples, carrots, or corn on the cob. Finely chop tough means into smaller pieces as well.
  • Use ice and heat. Ice and heat decrease swelling and pain and increase blood flow to the area. Apply ice or heat for 10-20 minutes, then alternate to the other one for 10 to 20 minutes.
  • Keep good posture. Making sure you maintain good posture can actually help your TMJ symptoms. This is especially true if you suffer from face, neck, and/or shoulder pain.
  • Take medication. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications such as Advil, Aleve, and more can help reduce swelling and pain for a short period of time. If over-the-counter medications do not work for your pain, make sure you speak with your doctor.

What is the Best TMJ Treatment?

Effectively addressing TMJ disorders involves the treatment of three factors. They include:

  1. Incorrect bite alignment (occlusion)
  2. Incoordination between the muscles and joints of the jaw, head, neck, and teeth
  3. Management of stress imbalance through at-home care

These components all work together and inform each other, so the likelihood of successful treatment decreases when your TMJ dentist or doctor is not addressing all three parts.

When you visit our practice for TMJ treatment, Dr. Gorman will start with a complete in-office assessment, including a computer evaluation of head/neck/biting forces and their relationship to healthy muscle and joint positioning.

Using this information, he can construct a customized oral appliance designed to correct bite alignment and any imbalances between the muscles and joints. In addition, the appliance makes clenching the teeth almost impossible, helping alleviate pain and pressure associated with stress-related clenching throughout the day.

Depending on your unique needs, Dr. Gorman may incorporate co-therapies such as cranial adjustments, chiropractic adjustments, myofunctional therapy, and others to treat your TMJ’s exact cause(s) and achieve the most successful resolution of your symptoms.

As a highly trained dentist in the treatment of TMD, Dr. Martin Gorman has spent years learning and practicing the most advanced technology and research to bring relief to TMD patients. Our practice aims to help you find freedom from TMJ and related symptoms—especially TMJ tension and migraine headaches.

Dr. Gorman’s firm commitment to his patients is to provide relief from migraine headaches, teeth grinding, jaw popping and clicking, ringing in the ears, as well as any jaw, face, head, or neck pain related to TMJ. His approach is a comprehensive program for treating all TMJ issues.

About Gorman Health and Wellness

Dr. Gorman is a part of the breathing wellness movement, which aims to increase awareness and improve treatment for sleep-related airway conditions like sleep apnea. He has partnered with organizations focused on collaborating with dentists to apply the sciences of Craniofacial Epigenetics (the study of cranial modifications caused by gene expression as opposed to genetic code alteration) and Pneumopedics® (the practical application of oral appliance therapy and non-surgical airway remodeling) in the management of sleep apnea.

Together, the application of these sciences allows for underlying causes of airway obstruction to be treated in 98% of cases, resulting in a high success rate among sleep apnea patients. For every sleep apnea case at our practice, Dr. Gorman will gather patient data and determine the patient’s specific needs based on home sleep test results, dental impressions, CT scans, and images. Our state-of-the-art technology, paired with Dr. Gorman’s experience with sleep disorders, allows him to find the most effective treatment plan for each individual’s particular case, yielding improved daytime and nighttime breathing for the patient.

“I have been helping people suffering from Sleep Apnea with a non-invasive, clinically approved treatment method. This method has allowed my patients to sleep with far fewer events per hour, allowing them to get rid of their CPAP and BiPAP machines. Imagine not having to use one of those machines, getting back a much greater quality of life along with the benefits of being able to breathe better.” – Dr. Gorman.

For more information on Dr. Gorman and living without the everyday pain and discomfort of TMJ symptoms, contact us today.

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