Lake Forest Dentist Answers FAQs about TMJ

You may not think that an abnormality in your bite could cause many problems, but the truth is, a misaligned bite could be a symptom of a more serious problem. TMJ, or temporomandibular joints,  refers to the two small joints that attach your lower jaw to your skull, and when these joints do not function properly, the results can negatively affect your body in several ways. Dr. James Fondriest, one of the leading dentists in TMD (TMJ disorder) treatment, understands the causes and effects of TMD.

What is TMJ?

The TMJs are ball-and-socket joints attaching your lower jawbone, or mandible, to your skull, namely your temporal bone. The two joints are located immediately in front of your ears. Between the mandible and temporal bones that form the joints are discs that attach to the ball of the lower jaw. The discs absorb shock, allow smooth movement, and keep the bones separated. TMJs rotate and glide when you talk, chew, yawn, and swallow. TMD is the acronym for temporomandibular joint disorder. This disorder affects the TMJs and supporting muscles of the head and neck. It also affects the way the upper and lower teeth meet, a relationship known as a bite or occlusion.

Is TMJ common?

More than 50% of our patients display symptoms of TMD, and, according to the American Dental Association, at least 35% of people exhibit at least one symptom. Women are more likely than men to develop TMD.

What are the common symptoms of TMJ?

The most common symptoms of TMJ disorder include headaches, teeth sensitivity to cold, ear pain, or jaw tenderness. Other symptoms include the inability to bite all the way down, limited mouth movement, an uncomfortable or changing bite, ringing in the ears, facial pain, difficulty chewing, worn teeth, gum recession, clenching of teeth, neck pain, and dizziness.

What causes TMD?

Traumatic injury to the chin, jaw, or TMJs, jaw or teeth misalignment, missing back teeth, chronic clenching, and arthritis are leading causes of TMD. Other causes include bruxism, or teeth grinding and poor dental treatment that lead to malocclusion. Stressful situations can also trigger symptoms of TMD.

Does TMD affect other parts of the body?

When the joints do not function properly, muscle spasms occur. Tension travels through other parts of the body, including the neck and shoulders, like a chain reaction. When  tension is released with TMD therapy, patients feel a deep relaxation throughout the face, jaw, neck, and shoulders.

Why can’t I open my mouth very wide?

The spasms caused by TMD cause muscles to lock, meaning they cannot move like a healthy muscle. When the muscles surrounding your jaw are in a deep spasm, you will be unable to open your mouth normally. When the spasm ends, the mouth will regain normal function.

Why does TMD cause headaches?

Inflammation of the muscles in the head and neck is the most common cause of a headache relating to TMD. Muscles become inflamed because over stimulation from clenching and grinding teeth or from the jaw muscles holding TMJs in proper alignment, when the resting position does not support it. Over-the-counter medication may relieve the headache, but will not treat the root cause of the pain.

How is TMD treated?

Dr. Fondriest offers relief of these symptoms by employing the least invasive treatment possible. The nature and severity of TMD symptoms will dictate the appropriate therapy. First, TMD sufferers should avoid chewing on hum, ice, or objects other than food. They should also avoid any habit or hobby that requires repeated jaw motion. Stress relieving exercises, including yoga, may help, as well.

For most patients, TMJ disorder can be treated with a night guard, or a plastic mouthpiece that fits over the upper and lower teeth to hold the jaw joints in proper position and eliminate clenching and grinding teeth. Oral splints, on the other hand, work the same way, but are worn all the time (not just at night). Dr.Fondriest will discuss which mouth guard will be more suitable for your case.

If back teeth have worn down and led to malocclusion, rebuilding those teeth with crowns may restore proper occlusion and the natural resting position of the jaw joints. In some rare cases, surgery is required to alleviate symptoms.

About the Author: Dr. Fondriest has had extensive training in TMJ therapy at the world renowned L.D. Pankey Institute, where he now works as a senior faculty member. To schedule a consultation to discuss your jaw pain with a TMD expert, Dr. James Fondriest, DDS, FICD, FACD at Lake Forest Dental Arts near Chicago, at (847) 234-0517.

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