You may spend most of your life unaware of the important little triangular-shaped joints located in front of your ears called the temporomandibular joints, or TMJs. Lined with cartilage (like most joints), these joints move with a smooth, gliding motion. Under normal conditions, they join your lower jaw and the temporal bone of your skull, allowing your mouth to open and close easily.
Stress or an improper bite can cause the TMJs to malfunction. In fact, the temporomandibular joint is highly sensitive to overall physical, emotional, and psychological stress. It is also affected by the mechanics of your bite and the condition of your jaw muscles. A little extra stress, a little extra fatigue, a little change in your bite, and you may temporarily knock the whole system out of balance. The resulting TMJ disorder, or TMJD, can create a variety of mild to severe symptoms, from jaw clicking and minor discomfort to sharp pain in your temple, ear, neck, and shoulders. TMJD can be a cause of chronic headaches and other problems that you might not immediately recognize as related to your jaw.
Evaluation for TMJD
The condition is very common in our culture, so we evaluate every patient for TMJ dysfunction at their regular dental exam. This includes asking you whether you’ve experienced any symptoms, and also placing our hands over the joint while you open and close your mouth a few times. If we detect a problem, our goals are to arrest it, protect teeth from further damage, and correct underlying bite misalignment.
Treatment of TMJD
There are many different ways to treat TMJD. Which ones we recommend for you will depend on the specifics of your case.
Therapy may involve fitting you with a physiologic bite appliance (which helps prevent you from grinding your teeth together while you sleep), suggesting ways to alleviate stress, and recommending symptom relief measures. Typically, TMJ patients need to avoid chewing gum or hard, chewy food, take small bites, and alternate chewing between both sides of the mouth. Good nutrition will help the joint heal more quickly.
Good posture will also help relieve discomfort; a straight back, relaxed neck, and side-sleeping position are helpful. Certain habits, such as leaning your face on your hand, may put excessive stress on the TMJ by forcing the joint out of alignment. In some cases, referral to a physical therapist can be useful, to help you learn to correct your posture and to strengthen and stretch particular muscles related to your TMJ. To relieve soreness, light temple and jaw massage will stimulate circulation and relax the muscles; we may refer you to a massage therapist with specialized training in jaw massage.
If pain is present, we suggest alternating moist heat and cold for 20 minutes to further increase circulation. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories or analgesics can be very helpful as well. In severe cases, stronger pain medication may be prescribed, but it’s necessary to be very careful with these medications due to the side effects and the potential for addiction.
Dentist in Virginia Beach
TMJD can wreak havoc on many aspects of your life, causing pain and difficulty with basic functions like chewing and speaking. We want to help you receive the relief you deserve. If you’re looking for a dentist in Virginia Beach who performs TMJ treatments, please call our office to book a complementary consultation with Dr. Mary Lewis. She provides many types of TMJD therapy in Virginia Beach, and is a top dentist in the area for general dentistry as well as cosmetic and restorative dentistry.