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If you have had trouble with opening and closing your mouth and hear a popping sound when you do it, you may be experiencing TMJ Disorder (TMJD). The temporomandibular joints are the pair of hinges or sliding ball-and-socket joints that connect the lower jaw to the upper jaw, which you can feel move if you put your fingers in front of your lower earlobes and open or close your mouth. They are also the most complex and frequently-used joints, cycling over 2,000 times per day.
Despite the extreme usage, most people do not suffer from their TMJD because a disc between the two parts of each joint acts as a shock absorber to allow for a smooth gliding action. The discs are kept in place by ligaments and connective tissue and muscles attaching directly to the jawbones to align, stabilize, and control jaw movement.
But for at least 10 million Americans, the TM joints don’t always function perfectly as they should, which can be very uncomfortable or even serious. The popping or clicking sound is annoying, but sometimes it’s difficult to open or close the mouth or movement is limited. TMJD often causes unconscious clenching of teeth, wearing them down or making them sensitive. It may also lead to a misalignment of the bite.
TMJD can cause pain and facial muscle fatigue or even spasms, ear pain that is not related to infections, occasional ringing in the ears, pain behind the eyes, and frequent severe headaches that cannot be explained by other factors. Muscles in the upper back or neck may become sore and the tips of fingers even may become numb. Two other symptoms can be frequent dizziness or tooth pain that is hard to pin down as to which tooth is creating it.
What causes TMJD?
TMJD can occur in anyone of any gender or age by trauma, such as whiplash in a car accident or being hit in the head during sports. Lost or crooked teeth can result in a misaligned bite. Someone may be born with an overbite or may clench her or his teeth unconsciously while sleeping, grinding them down. Or old dental work may be contributing to a bad bite. All of these put stress on the muscles and connecting tissues of the TMJs and the body may try to adapt, creating unnatural stresses on the face, neck, or back. In other cases, osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis can bring about changes in the skeleton, including the jaw. Fibromyalgia, associated with widespread musculoskeletal pain throughout the body, is common in those with TMJD. Even emotional stress and excessive chewing of gum can create jaw misalignment.
But dentists know from extensive experience working with patients suffering from this that 90% of cases involve women 18-44. There are quite a number of correlations with child-bearings years:
- Pre-menopausal women can suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiencies due to menstruation. Given the typical American diet, calcium and magnesium, the cornerstones of keeping bones dense, are often not adequately consumed and over time this leads to osteoporosis or severe bone loss.
- The type of collagen protein in women that holds each disk in place at the socket is easily dislocated.
- Researchers have found a link between estrogen and pain in the joints, which suggests that women who use oral contraceptives or who are on hormone replacement programs are at higher risk of TMJD.
- Women are often under more stress than men because of their child care responsibilities and expectations about home care or meal preparation, despite having demanding jobs where they may feel pressure to outperform men.
So what can Wilshire Smile Studio do about Temporomandibular Joint Disorder?
Not surprisingly, dentists deal with not only cavities and gum disease, but all the disorders and dysfunctions of the mouth and surrounding tissues and bones. Because the alignment of the bite has so much to do with why TMJD occurs, dentists are usually the first to hear about or observe when the jaw hinges are not functioning smoothly.
So what can be done? First, a thorough physical exam needs to consider all the symptoms. A discussion can lead to discovering what stress factors there may be that are triggering this. A digital dental x-ray (involving minimal radiation) will be needed to see what is happening to the jaw will be need to see what is happening to the jaw.
Some of the ways TMJD can be treated, depending on the cause:
- A custom-made orthotic splint can be created than is to be worn during the day or when you sleep to gradually adjust the jaw into its proper position.
- If dental work is needed, such implants or replacing crowns or dentures, we will include this in the treatment plan.
- We can also teach you some simple neuromuscular exercises to relax the jaw.
- We can prescribe muscle relaxers or anti-inflammatories and recommend ibuprofen or hot, moist compresses for temporary pain. If needed, we can also refer you for physical therapy, biofeedback, or ultrasound or laser therapy.
Call Wilshire Smile Studio today to set an appointment for an examination to see whether you may need relief from TMJD.