The temporomandibular joints are the joints that connect the jaw to the skull. When these joints become injured or damaged, it can result in pain and dysfunction, and the potential for developing a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) goes up.
The causes of TMJ disorders can include an injury to the teeth or jaw joints; tooth grinding or clenching; poor posture; joint conditions, such as osteoarthritic or rheumatoid arthritis; stress; and even excessive gum chewing.
The most common symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorder include:
- Jaw pain
- Jaw popping, clicking or snapping
- Ear pain or ringing in the ears
- Ear popping
- Headaches, particularly around the temples
- Jaw muscles that are sore and stiff
- Locking of the jaw joint or feeling as if the jaw is going to lock
- Pain in the facial muscles
In many instances, the uncomfortable symptoms of TMD go away or are at least lessened with self-care treatments to get some pain relief, including:
- Alternating ice packs and moist heat on the joints
- Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Avoiding chewing gum and chewy foods
- Massaging of the joint
- Gentle jaw stretches
- Improving your posture
- Stress reduction
But, What if Home Remedies for Symptoms of TMD Don’t Work?
What happens when home treatments or self-care steps for your symptoms of TMD don’t work? Don’t be surprised. In many cases, while the things we mentioned above can bring relief, you may find it to be rather fleeting.
These things only treat the feelings of pain and discomfort, but not the root cause for your severe pain.
Other treatments, like dental splints, Botox injections, physical therapy, acupuncture and prescription pain medications, can also help for some time. Still, the root cause is often remedied by focusing on the bite.
Or, more specifically, balancing the bite.
TMD and Misaligned Bites
If your bite is uneven, it can cause unneeded strain in the jaw muscles and the nerves and ligaments surrounding the muscles in your jaw joint. Over time, this strain can cause pain, discomfort, and wear and tear on your jaw joint itself.
Your TMJs are critical for your ability to chew, eat and speak. If your bite is out of alignment and your TMJs are impacted, the chronic pain and discomfort you feel may impede your ability to do these things and lead to dysfunction of the jaw, which means you lose the ability to open and close your mouth.
How to Know if Your Bite Is Unbalanced
The best way to determine if your bite is unbalanced is to visit your dentist, but there’s an easy way to check it at home.
First, bite down as naturally as possible. Then, take note of these questions when thinking about your bite:
- Do your teeth fit together easily when your mouth is in a closed position?
- Do the teeth on one side of your mouth touch before the other side?
- Is there no contact between some teeth?
- Do your bottom front teeth push against your top front teeth?
- Is there joint pain when you bite down?
- Do you feel tooth sensitivity when you bite down?
- Do you hear a clicking, popping or snapping noise when you bite down?
How Is TMD Diagnosed?
When you come in for a TMD evaluation, we’ll take a look at your medical history and perform an exam. We’ll also discuss your experience and symptoms, take diagnostics for your bite, and perform X-rays or other imaging.
Other Causes of TMD
In addition to an unbalanced bite, some other risk factors can cause TMD, including:
- Misaligned or damaged cartilage discs in the jaw
- Cartilage and joint damage from arthritis
- Physical trauma to the jaw from outside sources, such as a fall, accident or blow to the face
- Bruxism (also known as teeth grinding)
- Missing a tooth or multiple teeth
As we mentioned, an uneven bite can cause strain on the jaw joints, muscles and other connective tissues that surround the joint, which can lead to pain and the potential for TMD.
So, treating only the symptoms of TMD isn’t the best game plan. For long-term relief, you need a professional diagnosis and analysis to determine the cause of your jaw problems.
What Happens if You Don’t Treat TMD:
- Pain Gets Worse: Due to the unnatural stress on the jaw joint, people living with TMD can experience varying pain levels. Without treatment, TMD can get more painful – even excruciating – and may require medical treatment and invasive procedures like jaw joint surgery.
- It Can Cause Other Medical Conditions: Patients with untreated TMD frequently develop debilitating neck pain, depression and even malnutrition due to their discomfort, pain and jaw dysfunction.
- Poor Oral Health: TMD can deteriorate oral health levels and cause problems like gum disease, tooth decay or physical tooth trauma.
- Hearing Problems. Some TMD patients experience difficulty hearing due to their TMD due to the proximity of the jaw joints to the ears.
Are you living with the pain of TMD and just getting by through “managing” your symptoms? Call us today to talk about it. We’re here to help.