Understanding TMJ Disorders: Shedding Light During TMJ Awareness Month
TMJ disorders are prevalent but not always fully comprehended. November is TMJ Awareness Month, a time when we come together to learn about this often misunderstood condition, its symptoms, causes, and available treatments. At Blende Dental Group, we believe that knowledge is the key to better oral health, so let’s explore the world of TMJ disorders and why it’s crucial to be aware.
What Is TMJ?
The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, acts as a hinge connecting your jawbone to your skull. It enables you to speak, chew, and yawn comfortably. TMJ disorders occur when this joint malfunctions, leading to a variety of uncomfortable symptoms. These can range from jaw pain and headaches to difficulty in opening and closing the mouth, and even earaches.
During TMJ Awareness Month, The TMJ Association is committed to bringing attention to the significant impact that Temporomandibular (jaw) Disorders (TMJ) impose on millions of people across the globe. Here are some facts about TMJ.
- Approximately 36 million Americans suffer from TMJ and 90 percent of patients seeking treatment for TMJ are women of childbearing age.
- Studies show that 30-plus health conditions can coexist with TMJ disorders.
- The annual US economic impact of TMJ is $32 billion.
- For over 30 years, The TMJ Association has been the trusted source of information on TMJ.
- There is scant evidence on the safety and efficacy of the 50-plus TMJ treatments.
- The National Institutes of Health invests less than 0.05% of its total annual budget on TMJ research – which is just $0.49 per each TMJ patient.
Common Causes of TMJ Disorders
Understanding the causes of TMJ disorders is essential for prevention and early intervention. Some common factors contributing to TMJ issues include:
- Bruxism (Teeth Grinding and Clenching): Grinding or clenching your teeth can put immense pressure on the TMJ, leading to pain and discomfort.
- Trauma or Injury: Any injury to the jaw area, whether from sports, accidents, or physical blows, can damage the TMJ.
- Arthritis: Various types of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, can affect the TMJ.
- Misaligned Bite: An improper bite or misalignment of the teeth can strain the TMJ over time.
- Stress: Stress and anxiety can cause muscle tension in the jaw, contributing to TMJ disorders.
A Common Misnomer and a Common Problem
As Blende Dental Group’s Dr. Lindzy Goodman explains, “Many people confuse temporomandibular disorder (TMD) with the more popular term TMJ. It’s important to understand the difference, however. TMJ is the abbreviation for the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) – the hinge of the jaw. So, TMJ is the physical part of the body affected by TMD, which is the actual disease.”
Dental scientists and researchers have found a strong correlation between TMD and bruxism, the technical term for clenching and grinding one’s teeth. Up to 30% of the population has this habit. Stress and anxiety are major culprits along with alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and recreational drug use, particularly substances such as cocaine and MDMA.
TMJ Disorder Symptoms to Watch For
Recognizing the signs of TMJ disorders is crucial for early diagnosis and effective treatment. If you experience any of the following symptoms, it’s important to consult with a dental professional.
- Jaw Pain or Soreness: Persistent pain in the jaw joint or muscles.
- Headaches: Frequent headaches, especially in the temple area.
- Clicking or Popping Sounds: Clicking, popping, or grating sounds when you open or close your mouth.
- Limited Jaw Movement: Difficulty in fully opening or closing the mouth.
- Ear Pain: Unexplained ear aches not related to ear infections.
The good news is that TMJ disorders are manageable, and various treatment options are available to alleviate the symptoms. Depending on the severity and cause of your TMJ disorder, your dentist may recommend a few different treatment options.
- Lifestyle Modifications: Incorporating stress-reduction techniques, avoiding hard or chewy foods, and practicing relaxation exercises can help manage symptoms.
- Oral Appliances: Custom-made oral splints or mouthguards can prevent teeth grinding and clenching, relieving TMJ pressure.
- Physical Therapy: Therapeutic exercises and massages can relax jaw muscles and improve joint mobility.
- Dental Procedures: In severe cases, dental procedures like orthodontic treatments or dental restorations may be necessary to correct bite issues.
Focusing on Bruxism
Bruxism leads to various problems that include tooth wear and breaking, gum recession, headaches, tooth pain, neck and jaw pain, lock jaw, and headaches. It’s also a leading culprit in temporomandibular disorders.
The recommended first line of treatment for grinding and clenching is a nightguard made by your dentist. Other forms of treatment include botox, orthodontics, and, in severe cases, surgery. Dr. Goodman highly recommends de-stressing through meditation and sleeping on your back. Also try to avoid stimulants in the evening.
Should I get a nightguard from the drugstore? NO! These “boil-and-bite” devices are not calibrated to the proper jaw position, unlike a custom fitted guard from the dentist. In fact, over-the-counter products may increase your clenching and cause more damage to your jaw and teeth.
Will insurance cover it? Night guards are typically covered by your dental insurance as long as your dentist determines they are medically necessary. Your dentist can send a pre-authorization to see if your insurance covers it.
What about retainers? “Wait, I just went through Invisalign and need to wear my retainers at night!” you may say. Well, there are special types of nightguards that act as both a retainer and a guard. Be sure to ask your dentist about creating an alternating schedule.
What next? If you believe that you’re a “grinder” and do not have a custom fit nightguard, schedule an appointment with your dentist. The dentist will scan or take an impression of your teeth to fabricate the guard, typically done using a 3D printer at a lab. A second appointment will be needed to fit the guard and calibrate your bite.
We’re Here to Help
As we observe TMJ Awareness Month, it’s our hope that this information empowers you to recognize the signs of TMJ disorders and seek appropriate help if needed. Remember, early intervention can significantly improve your quality of life and prevent the condition from worsening.
At Blende Dental Group, we are here to support you on your journey to better oral health. If you have any concerns about TMJ disorders or any other dental issues, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with us, whether you’re an existing patient or someone looking for a new provider. Together, let’s raise awareness, promote understanding, and work toward healthier smiles for everyone.
The when and where are up to you.