The Temporomandibular joints (TMJ) connect the jaw to the skull bone allowing people to speak, chew, yawn, and perform other day to day functions. When strained or damaged, a condition often referred to as TMJ dysfunction (TMD), the TMJ may stop working properly limiting patients’ ranges of motion, make strange sounds while in motion, and often cause severe head, neck, and jaw pain. If you think you’re suffering from TMD, don’t hesitate to contact us between appointments, or let the dentist know during your next visit.
Diagnosis & Treatment
The first step if a patients is experiencing pain or limited range of jaw motion is to obtain an accurate diagnosis. Patients experiencing any of the following common side effects of TMJ dysfunction should let us know right away:
- Pain when opening and closing the mouth
- Grinding or popping sound when opening and closing the mouth
- Chronic jaw pain, headache, earache, or neck pain
- Tinnitus, ringing in the ears, or loss of hearing
- Inability to fully open and close the jaw
If patients report experiencing any of these warning signs, we will carefully examine their TMJ area with various diagnostic tools. Once we determine that patients are suffering from TMD, we work with them to determine the cause. In many cases, a specific behavior (like bruxism – teeth grinding and clenching) leads to this disorder, and the best treatment plan begins by eliminating the underlying cause. Typically, we recommend two main treatment options: occlusal splints and adjustments.
We often begin by treating TMD with an occlusal splint. These custom crafted oral appliances are designed and manufactured to allow the jaw to rest comfortably in its ideal position relieving strain and stress on the jaw joints. In most cases, these splints are worn during sleep. Most patients report experiencing significantly reduced discomfort after just a few days of consistent usage, but after several weeks, months, or even years of nightly use, occlusal splints may be able to reset the jaw to its correct alignment. When the jaw is in proper alignment, the joints do not need to work as hard, and regular functions like eating and speaking are once again performed easily and without discomfort.
For those patients with more advanced TMD or those with TMJ dysfunction that does not respond to treatment with an occlusal splint, we may recommend occlusal adjustments. There are a number of ways to perform these treatments. The first is simply physical therapy exercises completed by patients on a daily basis. We may also recommend surgical adjustments, orthodontic realignment, and other advanced options in more severe cases. Each individual case of TMD is different and we design treatment plans to meet these unique needs.