The temporomandibular joints, or TMJ, connect each side of your jaw to the skull. When you eat, yawn, talk, or even shift the position of your mouth a little, the TMJ operate as sliding hinges to enable these movements. Given how frequently you use them, it's easy to see how dysfunction in the temporomandibular joints can cause a great deal of pain. Symptoms of TMJ disorders can impact your quality of life, but by identifying the underlying cause of your pain, we can provide a custom treatment plan that will help you feel like yourself again.
Understanding TMJ Disorders
To begin, it's important to reiterate that TMJ stands for temporomandibular joints—it’s not the name of a condition. Everyone has TMJ, but when the TMJ cause pain, it’s called TMJ disorder, or TMD.
TMJ disorder can fall into one of three categories. These include:
- Myofascial pain – This is pain that comes from the muscles that surround the TMJ, rather than the joints themselves. Common causes of myofascial pain include teeth grinding and jaw clenching.
- Internal derangement of the joint – An injury to the condyle, a dislocated jaw, or a misaligned disc can all lead to joint derangement.
- Arthritis – Arthritis can affect the temporomandibular joints the same way it attacks other joints in the body.
Symptoms of TMJ Disorder
Because TMD symptoms overlap with those of many other conditions, it can be difficult to diagnose. A patient may experience chronic headaches for years before discovering that the source of these headaches is TMD. TMJ disorders can manifest in a number of ways, including:
- Tension headaches, migraines, and other headaches
- Facial tenderness, especially around the cheeks and jaw
- Feelings of fullness in the ears, earaches, or tinnitus; because our sense of balance is located in the ears, TMD can sometimes cause dizziness and unsteadiness
- Tightness in the jaw
- Popping and clicking when opening the mouth or eating
- Locking of the jaw
- Difficulty eating
Causes of TMJ Disorder
The first step in treating TMD is to figure out what's causing it. If your TMD is caused by arthritis, for example, we will work with your rheumatologist to relieve your symptoms and treat the underlying source of your chronic pain.
Injury-related TMJ disorders call for a different approach than TMD caused by myofascial pain, which is the most prevalent type of TMD. Teeth grinding or jaw clenching, often known as bruxism, is a common cause of pain in the muscles that surround the TMJ. Many patients are unaware that they are grinding their teeth or clenching their jaws while sleeping, but Dr. Dennis can examine your teeth to find evidence of bruxism.
A custom night guard can be used to treat bruxism and the TMJ pain it causes by reducing stress on the temporomandibular joints while also physically preventing you from grinding your teeth.