TMJ Disorder is not just one disorder, but several disorders that affect the jaw joint and the muscles that control chewing. The pain can be as minor as slight clicking to popping sensations when the mouth is opened or closed, or as serious as chronic pain extending into the face, neck and shoulders. As a rule, discomfort from TMJ is occasional and not permanent, sometimes occurring in cycles. Although no one knows for sure how many people have TMJ disorder, the disorders seem to affect more women than men.
Causes of TMJ Disorder:
While the exact causes of TMJ disorder are unknown, it is believed that the following contribute to the disorder:
- Head trauma
- Head or neck injuries
- Lost teeth and arthritis in the jaw joint
- Misaligned or unstable bite can lead to muscles not working properly
- Jaw muscles working improperly may result in the muscles going into spasm
- Mental or physical stress can cause or make TMJ Disorder worse
- Clenching or grinding your teeth at night can tire jaw muscles and lead to pain
- Frequent headaches
Symptoms of TMJ
- Tenderness of jaw muscles
- Clicking or popping noises when opening or closing mouth
- Difficultly or pain when opening mouth
- Facial or jaw pain
- Ringing ears
- Jaw sticking or locking up
- Frequent headaches
- Pain in or around the ear
Diagnosing TMJ Disorder
At your orthodontist’s office, X-rays of your teeth and jaw can help determine if your problem is dental in nature. If it is, procedures can be done to improve the alignment of your bite. Because other types of pain have been known to mimic a TMJ disorder, complete dental and medical exams are important steps in getting an accurate diagnosis.
About 15 percent of people have a habit of grinding their teeth or clenching their jaws, a condition called bruxism. Most people do it in their sleep, so it often goes undetected until a family member hears the grinding sound or a dentist notices symptoms. If diagnosed early enough, bruxism can be treated before it causes damage to the teeth. Most often, bruxism is related to stress. Alcohol and caffeine intake can aggravate the condition, causing more severe grinding or clenching.
Effects of Bruxism
In many cases, bruxism doesn’t cause any damage. But if the grinding is severe enough, it can:
- Wear down tooth enamel
- Chip teeth
- Increase temperature sensitivity
- Erode gums and supporting bones
- Break fillings or other dental work
- Worsen temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction
- Result in cosmetic damage
Symptoms to Look For
- Teeth grinding, often very loud, during sleep
- Jaw pain, headache or earache
- Frequent contraction of muscles on the side of the face
- Sensitive teeth
- Teeth that look flat at the tips
- Abnormal alignment of teeth
Teeth Grinding in Children
Bruxism is common in children. Three out of 10 kids grind or clench their teeth, usually before the age of 5. They may grind their teeth in response to jaw growth, losing or getting in new teeth, or the pain and discomfort of other ailments, like allergies or ear infections. As in adults, stress often contributes to bruxism in children. Teeth grinding is usually a passing phenomenon in kids, and most outgrow it by the time they reach adolescence.
There are several treatment options for TMJ disorder. If grinding your teeth is a problem, a type of splint may be custom-made to protect the upper and lower teeth. You will be instructed to wear it when you sleep.
Short-term solutions might include:
- Prescription and nonprescription drugs
- Moist heat packs to ease symptoms
- Switching to a soft diet
- Avoiding ice and chewing gum
- Cutting food in smaller pieces to help alleviate stress to the jaw
- Muscle stretching relaxation exercises
In rare cases, surgery is required to correct a TMJ Disorder. Surgery is generally considered to be an option only after other forms of treatment have been exhausted.
Early detection is the key to eliminating the symptoms of TMJ Disorder. If you suspect you may have TMJ disorder, discuss your options with Dr. Mellas.