Among the more common problems associated with the orofacial region is pain in the jaw joint which can lead to a whole host of problems. A good portion of these problems originate with teeth grinding or bruxism. Usually these TMJ issues can be treated very simply, or may actually dissipate on their own as your stress resolves.
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) primarily consists of a ball at the top of the jaw (the condyle) in a bony socket just in front of the ear, separated by a cartilage disc (the condylar disc). Most people refer to problems with this area as TMJ, however the correct terminology is TMD, or temporomandibular dysfunction. Because of the frequent amount of activity associated with most people’s jaws (some more than others), this joint is subject to inflammation and other problems.
Grinding or clenching of the teeth, known as bruxism, is extremely common, especially with the stress level in our society which seems to never stop rising. Most commonly people grind their teeth at night or clench their teeth during the day when they are under unusual amounts of stress or worry. In some ways, it is our body’s way to relieve some mental stress. Unfortunately, the result is physical stress of the TMJ joint. Excess jaw activity causes inflation of the jaw joint and surrounding muscles leading to significant pain, headaches and sometimes limited ranges of motion. Bruxism can usually be treated by prescribing the patient a nightguard to wear at night to prevent teeth grinding. Alternative treatments include jaw exercises, anti-inflammatory medications, anti-depressant medications, physical therapy, or adjustment of your bite.
More serious cases of TMJ disorders usually involve improper function within the jaw joint itself. If the bony condyle is too far back in the jaw joint, it puts pressure on the many nerves in this area resulting in pain. If the condyle moves too far in the other direction, it can cause clicking and dislocation. My interest in this area began a few years ago when my sister experienced headaches, neck and jaw pain. She saw a TMJ specialist who fitted her with a mouth splint which repositioned her condyle in the joint. The splint changed the way her teeth fit together and the results were astounding as she was almost immediately out of pain. Unfortunately, now she either has to keep wearing the appliance for the rest of her life, have all of her teeth covered with crowns or composite buildups, or have braces to move her teeth into the more comfortable position. For now she is sticking with the appliance.
Relieving TMJ pain is something our office loves to do. In many cases, patients have been in chronic unexplained pain for years. Some studies show that up to 50% of migraine headaches may be associated with TMJ disorders. If you believe you may have TMD or bruxism, give us a call. Every day you wait for treatment, irreversible damage tho your teeth and jaw joint may occur.