What Happens if TMJ is Left Untreated?

TMJ disorders can be debilitating, annoying, and can significantly affect your quality of life. However, people tend to put off medical care for painful conditions due to many factors. Whether it is the costs associated with treatment, the commitment of undertaking therapy, or figuring out how to just “live with it,” it can be easy to put off day after day. However, TMJ disorders can worsen over time and leave you with terrible health consequences. Luckily, TMJ is a treatable condition that can significantly help your quality of life. If you or a loved one suffers from TMJ, keep reading to learn more about TMJ, the issues that untreated TMJ can cause, and how to get TMJ treatment started today.

What Is TMJ?

If you feel like you may be experiencing TMJ and haven’t been diagnosed yet, it is essential to know what TMJ is, how it can affect you, what causes it, and how it gets diagnosed.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the temporomandibular joints (TMJ) are the two joints that connect your lower jaw to your skull. Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) are disorders of the jaw muscles, temporomandibular joints, and nerves associated with chronic facial pain. Any problem that prevents the complex system of muscles, bones, and joints from working together in harmony may result in temporomandibular disorder.

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research classifies TMD by the following:

  • Myofascial pain – This is the most common form of TMD. It results in discomfort or pain in the fascia (connective tissue covering the muscles) and muscles that control jaw, neck, and shoulder function.
  • Internal derangement of the joint – This means a dislocated jaw or displaced disk (cushion of cartilage between the head of the jaw bone and the skull) or injury to the condyle (the rounded end of the jaw bone that articulates with the temporal skull bone).
  • Degenerative joint disease – This includes osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis in the jaw joint.

You can have one or more of these conditions at the same time.

Symptoms of TMD

Also according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the following are the most common signs and symptoms of TMD:

  • Jaw discomfort or soreness (often most prevalent in the morning or late afternoon)
  • Headaches
  • Pain spreading behind the eyes, in the face, shoulder, neck, and/or back
  • Earaches or ringing in the ears (not caused by an infection of the inner ear canal)
  • Clicking or popping of the jaw
  • Locking of the jaw
  • Limited mouth motions
  • Clenching or grinding of the teeth
  • Dizziness
  • Sensitivity of the teeth without the presence of an oral health disease
  • Numbness or tingling sensation in the fingers
  • A change in the way the upper and lower teeth fit together

What Causes TMJ?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, TMJ disorder can be caused by injury to the jaw joints or surrounding tissues. Other TMD causes include:

  • Bruxism (teeth grinding/clenching)
  • Dislocation of the disc between the ball and socket joint
  • Arthritis in the TMJ
  • Stress
  • Acute trauma
  • An improper bite

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.

Untreated TMJ and Ongoing Issues

TMJ can cause significant pain and disruption to your life. The annoying, lingering pain that can spike and worsen at a moment’s notice can be very difficult to live with. In addition, it can worsen over time and cause ongoing health issues. Some of these include chronic pain, migraine headaches, sleep apnea, poor dental health, depression, and poor quality of life.

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.

According to Cleveland Clinic, a migraine is much more than a bad headache. This neurological disease can cause debilitating throbbing pain that can leave you in bed for days. Movement, light, sound, and other triggers may cause symptoms like pain, tiredness, nausea, visual disturbances, numbness and tingling, irritability, difficulty speaking, temporary loss of vision, and many more.

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.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 18 million people in the United States suffer from sleep apnea, many of whom have not been officially diagnosed. When sleep apnea goes unnoticed, people cannot receive the treatment they need. Initially, this can lead to daily issues such as headaches, fatigue, and poor memory. Over time, sleep apnea can lead to more serious health concerns, including diabetes, hypertension, and stroke.

Sleep apnea can be categorized into three different types:

  1. Obstructive Sleep Apnea: The most common form, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when the airway has been blocked, such as from tissue relaxing in the back of the throat.
  2. Central Sleep Apnea: When central sleep apnea (CSA) is present, the brain does not send the proper signals to the muscles responsible for breathing.
  3. Mixed Sleep Apnea: Mixed, or complex, sleep apnea involves a combination of both central and obstructive sleep apnea.

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.

Poor Dental Health

As noted earlier in this blog, clenching or grinding of the teeth is one of the many symptoms and side effects of TMJ. The constant clenching or grinding can wear your teeth down, cause cracks or cavities, or even fracture your teeth. It can also cause receding gums and additional jaw pain.

In addition, the natural way to breathe is through the nose. This is because the nose acts as a filter to the airway and prevents any toxins from entering. When sleep apnea is present, the body is not able to breathe through the nose, and it causes snoring. While breathing through the mouth, the body does not have the same filtration system that the nose provides. As such, toxins can come into the mouth to cause dry mouth, bad breath, dental issues, and much more.

Depression and Poor Quality of Life

Simply put: TMJ can lead to poor quality of life. 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. The constant pain of TMJ can quickly lead to depression, substance abuse, isolation, and much more.

How to Get Treatment for TMJ

The good news about TMJ disorders is that TMJ treatment is available. The prognosis for TMD is good, as most individuals respond well to treatment. Treatment success rates are significantly enhanced when a comprehensive approach that addresses occlusion, muscle/joint balance, and stress management is employed.

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. He can construct a customized oral appliance designed to correct bite alignment and any imbalances between the muscles and joints using this information. 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 also incorporate co-therapies such as cranial adjustments, chiropractic adjustments, myofunctional therapy, and others to treat the exact cause(s) of your TMJ and achieve the most successful resolution of your symptoms.

TMJ Treatment at 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 sleep apnea and TMJ treatment, contact us today.

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