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Orthodontist in Westminster Explains What You Need to Know About TMJ Disorders

August 16, 2017

Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ) are a set of conditions that can affect the jaw and facial muscles. It’s imperative that people who suspect they have a TMJ disorder visit an orthodontist in Westminster as soon as possible for treatment. How do you know if you may have a TMJ disorder? What should you expect when you visit an orthodontist? Here’s everything you need to know about this painful condition:

What Are TMJ Disorders?

You have two temporomandibular joints, one on each side of your head that connects the jawbone to the your skull. These joints are considered to be some of the most complex joints in the entire body. Why? Some joints in the body, such as the knee joint, are hinge joints, meaning they link bones in the same way that a hinge connects a door to the wall. Other joints, such as the wrist, move in a sliding motion so they can easily move up and down. But, these joints have very limited side-to-side movement. The temporomandibular joints are a combination of hinge and sliding joints, so they move in a way that is more complex than the movement of all other joints in the body.

A person with a TMJ disorder will experience discomfort or pain in this area, either in the jaw joint itself or the surrounding facial muscles that are responsible for controlling the jaw’s movement.

What Causes TMJ Disorders?

TMJ disorders can develop when the cartilage surrounding the joint or the joint itself becomes damaged. These disorders can also develop when the joint becomes misaligned due to a blow to the face or other injury. Unfortunately, orthodontists are often unable to determine the cause of a patient’s TMJ disorders. However, certain people are at a higher risk of developing TMJ disorders than others. For example, if you have arthritis or tend to grind or clench your teeth for extended periods of time, you may develop a TMJ disorder.

The Symptoms of TMJ Disorders

It’s important to know the symptoms of TMJ disorders so you can visit an orthodontist right away if these symptoms appear. The most common symptom is pain, which patients typically will experience in the jaw or in the joint. Some patients have pain in both joints, while others may only experience pain on one side.  It’s also possible that you will feel pain in your ears or in various facial muscles instead of your joints. Patients with this symptom might wrongly assume they have an inner ear problem or sinus infection because they don’t realize the pain is stemming from the jaw joint.

People who are suffering from a TMJ disorder may experience this pain at all times, or only when they chew or talk. As time goes on, you may notice that it is difficult to open or close your mouth without your jaw locking up. Listen closely and you may even hear a clicking sound as you move your jaw.

Sometimes, symptoms may appear and disappear within a few days or a week. However, if the symptoms persist, you will need to see an orthodontist for treatment.

Treating TMJ Disorders

If you have been diagnosed with a TMJ disorder, treatment will begin immediately. The orthodontist may suggest you wear a mouth guard or splint, which is typically made out of a hard acrylic material. The mouth guard will reposition the jaw to alleviate some of the pain and discomfort you’re experiencing. If you’re in a great deal of pain, the orthodontist may also prescribe you anti-inflammatories and pain relievers to reduce the swelling and relieve pain.

The orthodontist will continue to evaluate your condition to determine if these treatment methods are effective. If you do not see any improvement with medications and a mouth guard, there are other treatment options that may be explored. Some patients see a significant improvement in their condition with corticosteroid injections to the jaw. In extreme cases, TMJ patients may need surgery, but this is generally seen as a last resort.  Learn more about treatment options for TMJ disorders.

Treating TMJ At Home

Your orthodontist may also go over some techniques that you can use to relieve TMJ pain at home. First, pay close attention to bad habits that could be contributing to the problem. Do you chew on pens or pencils? Do you constantly chew gum or find yourself clenching your teeth? Try to stop these habits to protect your jaw joints and prevent pain.  

If you begin to experience pain at home, the orthodontist can teach you certain stretches that will help alleviate pain in the jaw. There are also other stretches that you can do on a regular basis to strengthen the muscles and prevent pain. Finally, talk to the orthodontist about using heating pads or ice packs for pain relief. This is a great way to temporarily relieve pain caused by TMJ disorders until you can make it into an orthodontist for treatment. These techniques may help, but it’s still important to visit an orthodontist to identify the underlying cause of your TMJ disorder.

What to Expect at the Orthodontist

There is no test that can be performed to diagnose TMJ disorders, so your orthodontist will typically diagnose you after learning about your symptoms and conducting a physical exam of your mouth and jaw. Therefore, it’s important that you be as descriptive as possible when talking about your symptoms with the orthodontist. Some orthodontists may not feel comfortable prescribing medications without first conducting imaging studies to take a look at the jaw joint and the surrounding muscles.

Don’t hesitate to seek medical attention if you are experiencing discomfort in your jaw, facial muscles, or ears. At Prentice Orthodontics, our goal is to serve your needs, improve your health, and make you smile! We have a highly trained and friendly staff that is eager to welcome you into our offices and assist you with your dental needs. Call 303-468-7722 for a free consultation or contact us using the form on our website today!