What is the temporomandibular joint?
The temporomandibular joint, more commonly known as the TMJ, is a hinge that connects the lower jaw to the skull; it is what allows your mouth to open and close and move side to side smoothly. It connects just in front of the ear on each side of your head and is attached to muscles that control your mouth’s movement. You can feel these joints working by placing your fingers directly in front of your ears and opening and closing your mouth.
Are you experiencing pain in your jaw?
Some patients experience pain in this joint and the surrounding muscles or have difficulty chewing. This condition is called a TMJ disorder and is more prevalent than some may think. TMJ disorders develop for many reasons.
Common causes of TMJ disorders include
- Injury to the jaw or muscles in the neck or head
- Excessive clenching or grinding of the teeth
- Displaced or perforated disk in the joint
Although the cause of TMJ disorders is not always clear, it is important for an oral and maxillofacial surgeon to understand how the disorder arose to treat the problem appropriately. Sometimes the disorder may be a result of multiple causes.
You may have a TMJ disorder if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Trouble opening your mouth all the way
- Pain in the facial muscles, around the ears, or in the jaw joints
- Difficulty biting or chewing foods
- Grating, popping, or clicking sounds when opening and closing your mouth
- Increased headaches, dizziness, hearing loss, ear pain, or ringing in the ears
Many patients have a hard time distinguishing routine jaw pain from a more serious disorder. If you think you may have a TMJ disorder, ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you aware of grinding or clenching your teeth?
- Do you wake up with sore, stiff muscles around your jaws?
- Do you have frequent headaches or neck aches?
- Does the pain get worse when you clench your teeth?
- Does stress make your clenching and pain worse?
- Does your jaw click, pop, grate, catch, or lock when you open your mouth?
- Is it difficult or painful to open your mouth, eat, or yawn?
- Have you ever injured your neck, head, or jaws?
- Have you had problems (such as arthritis) with other joints?
- Do you have teeth that no longer touch when you bite?
- Do your teeth meet differently from time to time?
- Is it hard to use your front teeth to bite or tear food?
- Are your teeth sensitive, loose, broken, or worn?
The more times you answered yes, the more likely it is that you have a TMJ disorder. Understanding TMJ disorders will also help you understand how they are treated.
How can I treat my TMJ disorder?
There are various treatment options that our doctors can utilize to improve the function of your jaw and minimize the pain associated with TMJ disorders. During your initial consultation, Drs. Bennion, Tracy, and Boyce will perform a thorough oral examination to pinpoint the functional problem and determine the proper course of treatment. The severity of the disorder may dictate the type of treatment that is best for you. Your doctor will work closely with you and your dentist through the treatment process to ensure that you are receiving the proper care for the condition, taking a more team-based approach to the procedure.
Various treatments have been proven to help mitigate TMJ disorders, ranging from intensive surgical treatments to low-maintenance, self-managed care. The severity of your condition and your personal health history will dictate the best course of treatment for you. The initial goal is to relieve the muscle spasm and joint pain, which is usually accomplished with a pain reliever, an anti-inflammatory, or a muscle relaxant. Steroids can also be injected directly into the joints to reduce pain and inflammation. Self-care treatments can often be effective and include
- Use of pain relievers, anti-inflammatories, or a muscle relaxant
- Steroid injections
- Biofeedback or physical therapy
- Use of a splint or night guard
- Use of an orthodontic stabilization appliance
- Resting your jaw
- Keeping your teeth apart when you are not swallowing or eating
- Eating soft foods
- Applying ice and heat
- Exercising your jaw
- Practicing good posture
If your TMJ disorder has caused problems with how your teeth fit together, you may need additional treatment such as bite adjustment (equilibration), orthodontics with or without jaw reconstruction, or restorative dental work. This often takes a team approach that includes you, your dentist, and your oral surgeon.
While no single treatment can resolve TMJ disorders completely, and treatment takes time to become effective, our skilled surgeons can help you have a healthier and more comfortable jaw. It is our goal to provide you with the least invasive treatment to accomplish the most optimal outcome for your condition. If you are experiencing jaw pain and would like to be evaluated to determine if you need TMJ treatment, we encourage you to contact Billings Oral Surgery & Dental Implant Center to schedule your initial consultation at one of our four convenient office locations in either Billings, MT, or Cody or Sheridan, WY.