TMJ disorders, or disorders of the temporomandibular joint, encompass a variety of problems associated with the jaw and range from minor pains to serious conditions that may impact speech and chewing. The joints on either side of the skull that are responsible for the movement of the jaw are susceptible to a variety of problems, particularly in individuals diagnosed with malocclusion and bruxism (chronic grinding of the teeth).
Symptoms of a TMJ Condition
While TMJ disorders can only be definitively diagnosed and treated by a qualified dental professional, there are a number of symptoms that may indicate a potential problem. The following is a list of common symptoms associated with TMJ disorders:
- Pain in the jaw and head upon waking in the morning
- Pain that worsens when jaws are clenched together
- Increased clenching or grinding of teeth when under stress
- Frequent pain in neck and head
- Popping or clicking sound when jaws are fully extended
- Discomfort or pain when chewing or yawning
- Gaps in bite caused by misalignment of jaws
- Permanent teeth that become excessively worn or loose over time
The presence of one or more of these symptoms may indicate a TMJ disorder. An appointment with your oral and maxillofacial surgeon is highly recommended in order to determine the cause of your discomfort and to begin a treatment plan to correct the problem before it becomes worse.
Treatment for TMJ Disorders
Depending on the nature of your particular condition, your dental professional will formulate a plan that will most effectively manage the issue. Anti-inflammatory pain relievers may be prescribed to reduce swelling and discomfort throughout the treatment process. You will be advised on home care procedures as well, including the following:
- Wearing a customized mouth guard at night to prevent clenching and teeth grinding
- Practicing conscious relaxation of the jaw muscles during the day
- Applying moderate amounts of heat and ice to reduce swelling and pain
- Managing stress through relaxation techniques
Surgical Solutions to TMJ Disorders
In cases in which a TMJ condition has resulted in the permanent relocation of the jaw or excessive wear to the teeth, surgical intervention may be necessary. The jaw may need to be restructured and the bite may require adjustment. Orthodontic procedures can help to properly realign the teeth after the jaw has been set to its proper location. The amount of surgery and other treatments that are necessary depends largely on the degree of damage caused by the condition. Surgery is typically only considered when other methods of treatment have proven ineffective at reducing patient pain and difficulty chewing or speaking. Your initial consultation with your oral and maxillofacial surgeon will include a comprehensive oral exam and x-rays to determine the extent of the problem and possible treatment options tailored to your individual case.
Who Needs Orthognathic Surgery?
People with TMJ disorder, improper bite or jaws that are positioned incorrectly can benefit from orthognathic surgery. Upper and lower jaws may grow at different rates resulting in problems affecting chewing, speech, appearance and jaw alignment. Orthognathic surgery may be required for the jaws when repositioning in necessary.
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This article was contributed by Shanna Cramer, who has a personal interest in health and fitness.