What Is TMJ & How Can a Dentist Help?

What Is TMJ

The temporomandibular joints are the joints on either side of your head that connect your jaw to your skull & allow you to open & close your mouth, chew, & speak. Because it can move in many different directions, these joints are some of the most complex in your body. Any problems with these joints are also referred to as TMJ disorder, or just TMJ.

Symptoms of TMJ

Symptoms of TMJ can include:

  • Jaw clicking, popping, or locking
  • Headaches or earaches
  • Pain when mouth is opened widely
  • Tenderness of jaw muscles

The cause of your TMJ can determine which or how many of these symptoms you have. At most dental checkups, your dentist or dental hygienist will check for tenderness in your jaw muscles to see if TMJ might be present.

Causes of TMJ

TMJ does not always have an obvious cause, but there are a few common possibilities for the origins of a TMJ problem:

  • Injury or dislocation
  • Teeth clenching (often from stress)
  • Arthritis
  • Poor tooth or jaw alignment

How Can a Dentist Help?

While many probably think of dentist as just teeth doctors, we can’t treat you properly without looking at your mouth as part of a system. That system definitely includes your temporomandibular joint. A dentist can help in diagnosing your TMJ disorder, & may also refer you to a physician or a specialist dentist for further diagnosis.

Because TMJ can be caused by tooth & jaw alignment problems, there are dental treatments that may help. Your dentist may refer you to an orthodontist for treatments like braces, which can help realign the teeth & the jaws so that your mouth can close in the proper position. Treatment form an orthodontist can alleviate TMJ symptoms in many cases.

If your TMJ comes from teeth grinding or clenching, your dentist may recommend that you wear a custom dental appliance. Often called a bite plate or a splint, this appliance will keep your upper teeth from grinding against your lower teeth. In addition to alleviating TMJ symptoms, this bite guard will prevent wear on your teeth from grinding that can lead to other problems.

Other treatments for TMJ include using hot & cold packs, taking anti-inflammatory &/or muscle relaxing medications, or learning relaxation techniques to reduce tension in your jaw muscles. In certain rare cases, TMJ may require jaw surgery to correct.

If you are concerned that you may have symptoms that indicate TMJ, please speak with your dentist about it. We want to get you relief from pain & discomfort as quickly as we can!

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