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TMJ Treatment

TMJ disorder compromises jaw flexibility and may cause pain at rest or during common movements such as talking, chewing and yawning. The pain and discomfort caused by TMJ disorder may be severe, can be either intermittent or constant and may last for many years. A few symptoms of TMJ patients may experience are headaches, jaw popping, ear pain, and dizziness.

TMJ stands for temporal-mandibular joint. Temporal refers to the temple area of the skull. Mandibular refers to the lower jaw. Joint refers to where the head and jaw meet. Problems in this joint may be caused by misalignment of teeth, trauma, or excess muscle tension.

If your dentist determines that no structural disorder exists in the joint but that there are deflective interferences on the teeth affecting the bite resulting in improper jaw closure, you may undergo occlusal equilibration or your dentist may elect to correct the bite with an appliance.

Occlusal equilibration, which involves reshaping the biting surfaces of the teeth, is often the best choice for eliminating deflective interferences so that the jaw can close properly. Once the lower jaw is able to close properly into position within the temporomandibular socket, you may find that your pain is relieved immediately. If your pain is not relieved, then the dentist may fit you for an occlusal appliance to cover the deflective interferences affecting the bite and allow for the lower jaw to be repositioned into the socket properly. If this relieves the pain, it is likely that your bite was causing the problem.

Causes of TMJ Disorder

TMJ disorder has often been portrayed as psycho-stress related, but in truth there are many different types of TMJ, any one of which may result from multiple causes.

The most common factor contributing to TMJ is a bite problem affecting the joint itself. Interferences in the structure of individual teeth may force displacement of the lower jaw, leading the muscles to position the joints out of their sockets to force the upper and lower teeth to fit together. Anatomical factors within the joint or surrounding muscles (such as the presence of scar tissue) may also interfere with the bite and cause TMJ disorder.

In other cases, TMJ may result from a jolting injury to the head or face. Also, wear and tear on the teeth due to aging or tooth grinding and clenching may cause uneven surfaces on the teeth, leading to interferences in the bite and improper jaw closure.

TMJ Symptoms and Diagnosis

The onset of TMJ symptoms is typically the first step toward diagnosis. Pain is TMJ disorder's most common symptom. People with TMJ may experience severe pain and discomfort in the face, jaw joint, neck and shoulders. During a dental consultation to evaluate TMJ, your dentist will evaluate pain with a "clench test." If any one tooth, all teeth, or the jaw are in pain when you bite down during a clench test, your pain is probably related to a bad bite.

TMJ sufferers often experience jaw clicking, popping or locking during movement. In some cases, chewing is difficult, or the bite may not align properly (malocclusion). You may also experience swelling on the side of the face, toothaches, headaches, neck aches, earaches and hearing problems.

A dentist suspecting TMJ disorder will first evaluate your bite (occlusion). To study your jaw-to-bite relationship as well as the position and condition of the temporomandibular joint, your dentist will make mold impressions of your bite and mount them on an instrument called an articulator, a device that mimics the jaw's movement and joint closure. During this study, your dentist will determine if a structural disorder exists within the joint itself or if deflective interferences in the bite such as uneven teeth are affecting the joint's ability to close properly, thus causing the TMJ.