Back to Blogs
Up to 15% of American adults (most aged 20-40) suffer from the dislocation of the temporomandibular joints (TMJ), which connect the lower jaw to the each side of the skull.
You can feel these move by holding your fingers just in front of the lower earlobes and opening and closing your mouth. The most common symptoms are a popping or clicking sound as you do this or even difficulty opening and closing it at all, as if were temporarily locked. Because Wilshire Smile Studio has experts in all things related to the health of the mouth, we can treat what is known as TMJ Disorder.
Other common symptoms of TMJD, according to WebMD:
- Pain when you chew.
- Pain in your face or neck.
- Stiff muscles in your jaw.
- A change in how your teeth fit together.
Other sources also list these possible symptoms:
- Sore muscles in the upper back that often lead to spasms.
- Frequent headaches, even migraines.
- Occasional ringing in the ears (not constant, as with tinnitus).
- Having some teeth that are sensitive.
- Clenching teeth unconsciously (including while you sleep, which can be detected during a dental exam by teeth having been ground down).
- Hands and fingers that feel numb.
Why the TMJ Becomes Dysfunctional
As WebMD notes: “The TMJ is one of the most complex joints in your body. It’s a sliding hinge that lets your jaw move up and down, side to side, and back to front. In addition to the bones and muscles, there’s also a small piece of cartilage (firm tissue) that acts like a shock absorber and protects your bones from wear and tear.”
It says that the most common reasons for the dislocation or dysfunction are trauma from an accident, teeth or jaws that are not lined up to match upper and lower arches, and arthritis, which damages the cartilage in the joint.
In a chapter of Craniofacial Pain: A Handbook for Assessment, Diagnosis and Management, H. Clifton Simmons III, DDS, Brendon C. Stack, DDS, and Allen J. Moses, DDS write:
The TMJ is a synovial joint like the knee, and unlike other joints, are capable of movement in all three directions. The TMJ is created to withstand normal biomechanical stresses, however trauma and possibly missing teeth can create displacement…Collagen, a chief component of ligaments, may rupture due to fast, sharp movements…the TMJ also consists of elastin, a connective tissue that cannot be repaired…The complex biomechanics of the TMJ produce anatomical and clinical problems unlike any other joints in the body…Pain in the TMJ is far more than a symptom. It is a very beneficial warning sign that not only alerts the patient that something is wrong in the body, but also indicates there may be a deeper cause…
Contributing causes include emotional stress causing tension in the jaw, excessive chewing of gum (often done because of stress), old dental work or missing teeth that cause bite misalignment, fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis.
Women 18-44 are estimated to comprise 90% of cases for a variety of reasons, including vitamin and mineral deficiencies (especially calcium and magnesium. which affect bone density, but which can ameliorated with supplementation), a weaker type of collagen protein (compared with men) that holds the discs of joints in place between the ball and sockets, the use of oral contraceptives, or being treated with hormone replacement therapy.
So What Can Be Done to Treat TMJ Disorder?
Fortunately, Wilshire Smile Studio has a variety of tools, techniques, and resources to alleviate the pain and move the TMJ back into its proper position and keep it there.
Clearly, if bite misalignment is a contributing cause, this may require putting dental crowns on the tops of ground-down teeth, treating a crooked bite with Invisalign aligner trays, or replacing missing teeth with dental implants (if the latter is not done, other teeth will start to get loose and eventually fall out or need to be extracted). In some cases, dental surgery might be required (Wilshire Smile Studio has its own oral surgeon).
We can also create a personalized orthotic splint, an FDA-approved oral device that is worn at night, which gradually moves the jaw into its proper position. This relieves pain in the short-term and may need to be remade as the bite changes. If the patient reports feeling their teeth clenching when they sit in front of a computer, work out in a gym, or watch TV, we can also make an additional appliance to be worn during the day. During this treatment it is advised to avoid hard or sticky foods that require a lot of heavy chewing (and not to chew gum or bite your nails).
We can provide Botox injections in the TMJ area that will help the jaw relax and return to a healthy, as well as alleviating pain.
We may also teach you some neuromuscular exercises to stretch and relax your jaw and can prescribe muscle relaxers or anti-inflammatory medication. We may refer you for physical therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic, and ultrasound or laser therapy, as appropriate.
WebMD notes that meditation, exercise, psychotherapy, or even pursuing hobbies can alleviate emotional stress that may be a contributing factor in TMJ Disorder.
If you believe you may be suffering from TMJD, call us to schedule an appointment for a full dental examination.