TMJ disorder, which affects the temporomandibular joints (TMJs) that connect your lower jaw to your skull, can make opening and closing your mouth difficult and lead to a host of dental problems. The trouble with TMJ disorder, besides its discomfort, is its wide variety of symptoms that can make the condition difficult to diagnose.
The exact cause of TMJ disorder may be due to a combination of factors, such as arthritis, stress, bruxism, or injury. Individuals with TMJ disorder often grind their teeth at night, although some individuals with bruxism never develop TMJ disorder. Symptoms from the condition can be temporary or long-term. Surgery is always a last resort for Dr. Fondriest, who will recommend conservative treatments.
Some patients may endure their chronic aches and pains for years before discovering that they originate with a dental problem. While an accurate diagnosis requires a comprehensive examination, we offer a few tips to help you determine if you have TMJ disorder.
Listen if your jaw makes noise
Other than a direct injury, TMJ disorder can often result from an imbalanced bite, which can itself result from a number of different issues. As a result of this imbalance, patients with TMJ disorder often experience popping and clicking as their jaws try to force their mouths straight when they open and close. If your jaw pops when it moves, it’s likely a victim of TMJ disorder.
Pay attention when your jaw moves
When you’re stressed, angry, or otherwise agitated, your body often manifests this stress as tension in your muscles, including those that control your jaw. The sudden clench can cause your teeth to grind together, and patients often don’t notice the act. When teeth-grinding is habitual, it’s called bruxism, and it often indicates the presence of discomfort from an uneven jaw.
Watch how your jaw moves
A healthy, properly aligned jaw glides smoothly along its joints, both sides moving in tandem to operate your lower jaw. When your jaw is not properly aligned, it will have to situate itself as it moves to allow movement. Stand in front of a mirror and slowly open and close your jaw from a restful position. If you notice your jaw move to the side as it opens and closes, then it is likely misaligned and suffering from TMJ disorder.
Jaw joints and bite pressure
TMJ disorder borrows its name from the temporomandibular joints, or TMJs, that connects the lower jaw to your skull. Normally, these joints are designed to glide smoothly within their sockets. But, when placed under excessive pressure, they can become damaged, inflamed, and/or misaligned. The dysfunction can disturb the jaw’s nerve, which also innervates much of a patient’s craniofacial structure, and lead to chronic jaw pain, headaches, earaches, etc. Common reasons for excessive jaw pressure and pain include malocclusion (crooked teeth), a congenitally imbalanced or malformed jawbone, a traumatic facial injury, habitual teeth-grinding, and arthritis, to name just a few.
Treatment through stress relief
When jaw pain is accompanied by other head and neck discomfort, immediate relief can often be found by gently massaging tense TMJs, or applying heat to relax the jaw muscles and joints. However, permanent relief will require treating the issue causing the bite imbalance to relieve the pressure on the jaws. For instance, orthodontic treatment can straighten crooked teeth and balance a patient’s bite so that the jaw doesn’t have to work overtime to keep the mouth aligned correctly. After a thorough examination, your dentist will consult with you to explain your TMJ disorder, determine your exact goals and expectations for treatment, and describe which treatments can help you and how.
The same nerve that controls the tensor tympani (a muscle within the ear) controls the jaw muscles. This connection plus the proximity of the ear to the jaws can mean that jaw pain can radiate toward the ears and manifest as an earache. If you experience ear pain frequently, please let Dr. Fondriest know during your consultation.
Not surprisingly, a leading symptom of TMJ disorder is jaw pain. This symptom will be most pronounced in the morning. Pay special attention when you wake up to how your jaws feel. Are the achy, sore, or fatigued? If so, you should let Dr. Fondriest know during your next visit.
Headaches may be common among some individuals, but they are also a telltale symptom of TMJ disorder. Headaches may be accompanied by neck or shoulder pain. Many of our patients report having temple headaches or even migraine-level headaches.
If your doctor has ruled out common causes for dizziness, the feelings of disorientation may be the result of TMJ disorder.
Tinnitus results in the sensation of hearing a phantom ringing, which is often high-pitched. The relative proximity of the jawbone to the inner ear means that TMJ disorder can affect the sensitive middle and inner ear, which can lead to tinnitus.
Often, TMJ disorder results from poor tooth alignment. This misalignment puts stress on the TMJs. Even if you do not notice jaw pain or other common symptoms of TMJ disorder, you may notice toothache resulting from poor malocclusion. If your natural teeth are the cause of malocclusion, Dr. Fondriest offers orthodontic treatments. If a misaligned prosthetic, such as a dental crown or dental bridge, is the cause of your toothache, Dr. Fondriest can adjust the prosthetic at his office.
Find Out if You Need Treatment for TMJ Disorder
Many patients endure for years under the constant hindrance of chronic aches and pains. Often, unsuccessful diagnosis and treatment can add stress to the discomfort. Many people are surprised to learn that headaches, earaches, neck soreness, and shoulder pains (among many others) are the result of a jaw dysfunction known as TMJ disorder.
Though the condition directly affects the joints that control your jaw’s movement, the resulting discomfort can manifest throughout your craniofacial structures, including your head, face, neck, ears, and more. Fortunately, your dentist can help you relieve TMJ disorder by correcting the underlying causes behind it.
Do you have TMJ?
If your jaw has trouble functioning or causes you increasing discomfort, then find out if you have TMJ disorder with a careful examination by your dentist. Dr. Fondriest offers multiple treatment options for patients who suffer from this highly treatable condition. The majority of TMJ cases that we see are treatable using non-surgical techniques. Left untreated, TMJ disorder can disrupt personal life, sleep, and work-related productivity.
To learn more, schedule a consultation by calling us at 847-234-0517. We also proudly serve residents of Lake Forest and all surrounding communities.