TMJ and Everything You Need to Know: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and More

TMJ can be very painful—so much so, that it can completely change one’s life. Whether your TMJ symptoms have been a sudden onset or have been slowly building throughout your life, it can be difficult to function. Searching for answers can be difficult, but luckily, we have compiled just about everything you need to know about the condition and how to manage it. Keep reading to learn more about TMJ and its causes, symptoms, how it can cause other health issues, and treatment for TMJ so that you can finally be free of pain.

What is TMJ?

According to Cleveland Clinic, 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.

TMJ is different for everyone who experiences it. It has many different root causes, pain levels, and treatment methods. It can also worsen over time if left untreated, and lead to other health issues (more on this later). These factors can make it difficult to treat and diagnose unless the individual is ready to get help for their daily pain and get their life back on track.

What Causes TMJ?

There is no single root cause of TMJ—everyone who suffers from TMJ may experience it in a different way and have a different reason for how it began. However, TMJ is largely caused due to damage or injury to the jaw or face for one reason or another.

Other causes of TMJ that may require treatment for TMJ include:

  • Constant teeth grinding or clenching, especially while sleeping and happening for hours on end, night after night
  • An injury to the face or jaw causing dislocation of the jaw
  • Whiplash
  • Arthritis
  • Stress
  • Dental work
  • Braces
  • Natural facial structure
  • An improper bite or improper tongue resting posture
  • A history of bottle feeding, digit sucking, or pacifier use
  • Missing teeth
  • Dental issues, such as bad teeth or gums
  • Disease
  • Inflammation

How is TMJ Diagnosed?

Also according to Cleveland Clinic, in most cases, TMJ dysfunction is diagnosed during a dental checkup. Your healthcare provider will:

  • Observe the range of motion when you open and close your mouth.
  • Press on your face and jaw to determine areas of discomfort.
  • Feel around your jaw joints as you open and close your mouth.

In addition, radiographs (X-rays) may be taken to view the jaw joints and determine the extent of the damage. These may include:

  • Panoramic X-rays. This type of dental X-ray shows a broad overview of your teeth, jawbone, and TMJs.
  • CBCT scans. Cone-beam computed tomography (CBCT) scans capture thousands of images of your teeth, jaws, facial bones, and sinuses. These pictures are then stitched together for a detailed 3-D image. Dental CT scans give your healthcare provider a more detailed view of your facial anatomy.
  • MRI scans. In some cases, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be used to view soft tissues in and around the jaw joints. These images show the position of the disk, inflammation, and possible jaw locking. This can tell your healthcare provider if the TMJ disc is functioning properly and in good condition.

What are the Symptoms of TMJ?

The symptoms of TMJ can widely vary. It can range from a dull ache in your jaw to a completely debilitating migraine and pain throughout your entire head. It is important to note every symptom you resonate with so that your doctor can come up with the best treatment protocol for you. If you experience one or more of the following symptoms, it is time to seek treatment for TMJ. You do not have to live with TMJ pain any longer, and waiting to get help can cause more harm to your body.

Symptoms of TMJ that may require treatment for TMJ vary and may include:

  • Changes in the way your teeth fit together when biting or resting
  • Clicking or popping or grating sounds in the jaw when opening or closing the mouth
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Earaches
  • Grinding your teeth
  • Inability to open your mouth in a normal range of motion
  • Jaw locking in the open- or closed-mouth position
  • Migraine headaches or any other type of headaches
  • Pain around the ears
  • Pain in the jaw, tooth, face, neck, or shoulders (individually or simultaneously)
  • Ringing or fullness in your ears
  • Sinus pressure and lack of draining
  • Swelling on the side of your face
  • The muscles in your face feeling tired and overworked
  • Tooth pain

Is there Treatment for TMJ?

Treatment for TMJ can vary greatly depending on the severity of your TMJ symptoms. They range from simple lifestyle changes to jaw surgery. It is important to meet with your doctor to discuss your overall health, symptoms, pain levels, and lifestyle so that you both can develop a treatment plan that will work for you.

Some of the most common treatments for TMJ include:

  • Lifestyle changes. Eating softer foods, using heat and cold packs, avoiding extreme jaw movements, and taking over-the-counter inflammation medication for a period of time can give your jaw the break it needs to heal from TMJ pain.
  • Jaw exercises. Myofunctional Therapy is a type of treatment to help disorders of the muscles and functions of the face and mouth. According to the Academy of Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy, Orofacial Myofunctional Disorders are disorders of the muscles and functions of the face and mouth. OMDs may affect, directly and/or indirectly, breastfeeding, facial skeletal growth, and development, chewing, swallowing, speech, occlusion, temporomandibular joint movement, oral hygiene, the stability of orthodontic treatment, facial esthetics, and more. Since OMDs are essentially muscle weaknesses of the face, performing strength exercises can help improve them. Much like exercises of any other part of the body, the more you do it, the stronger you will become. Through these exercises, the tongue will move into a more natural and normal resting posture which will help in many areas.
  • Botox injections or trigger point injections. Pain medication or Botox can be injected directly into painful areas to relieve pain and reduce inflammation.
  • Dental work. If your TMJ is caused by poor dental health, in many instances, dental work can help with the pain as a treatment for TMJ. Correcting missing, bad, or misaligned teeth can help with TMJ pain. This will get your teeth into a better, more natural alignment, which will take the strain off of your TMJ muscles, and, in turn, your TMJ pain may go away.
  • Wearing a splint or night guard. According to Cleveland Clinic, splints and night guards are mouthpieces that fit over your upper or lower teeth. When worn, the mouthpieces provide stable tooth contacts during closure. When worn, mouth guards also correct your bite by placing your jaw in a more favorable position. The main difference between splints and night guards is that night guards are only worn at night and splints are worn full time. Your healthcare provider can determine which type of oral appliance you may need.

Does TMJ Cause Other Health Issues?

In short: Yes, TMJ can cause other health issues if left untreated. In addition to having to live with the debilitating and painful symptoms that TMJ causes, untreated TMJ can cause larger health issues the longer it goes on. Some of these include:

  • Chronic pain. One of the major side effects of TMJ and something that can become ongoing or even worsen over time is chronic pain of the jaw. Chronic pain is much different than regular, acute pain. It is a long-standing pain that persists beyond the usual recovery period. In addition, it usually occurs along with a co-occurring health condition. In the example of TMJ, TMJ caused by an injury can cause chronic pain and develop a co-occurring disorder such as arthritis. Leaving TMJ untreated can leave you experiencing chronic pain, arthritis, migraines, and much more.
  • Migraine Headaches. Remember, the temporomandibular joints (TMJ) are the two joints that connect your lower jaw to your skull. More specifically, they are the joints that slide and rotate in front of each ear and consist of the mandible (the lower jaw) and the temporal bone (the side and base of the skull). They are some of the most complex joints in the body. When they are not aligned and cause TMJ, they will inevitably cause migraine headaches.
  • Sleep apnea. One of the largest concerns of TMJ is that it will cause sleep apnea. When the jaw is not aligned, it can cause an obstruction in the airway of the mouth. An obstruction in the airway of the mouth will almost certainly lead to sleep apnea issues. Sleep apnea is a prevalent condition that is characterized by frequent pauses in breathing when a person sleeps. The best form of treatment will vary based on which type of sleep apnea has developed. To learn about the next steps for addressing your condition, you will first need to schedule a sleep study to receive a diagnosis, after which you can discuss your treatment options at our clinic.
  • Depression. The constant pain of TMJ can quickly lead to depression, substance abuse, isolation, and much more. TMJ sufferers may not be able to find joy in activities they once loved, suffer from consequences at work or school, develop issues in friendships and relationships, gain weight, not be able to eat food they love, and much more.

TMJ Help from 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, improving your TMJ, and preventing sleep apnea, contact us today.

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