Chronic pain isn’t just about putting up with an ache. It can become much more serious if left unattended. TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint) pain is one such chronic condition that often goes unchecked. That’s because the pain isn’t isolated to the jaw — it shows up as headaches, ear pain, dizziness, and various hearing disorders. The annual cost of chronic pain conditions such as TMJ Disorder, is estimated at up to $80 billion, according to the Campaign to End Chronic Pain in Women.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJD) covers a lot of different inflammations of the temporomandibular joint, which connects the jaw (or mandible) to the skull. The joint is a ball-and-socket joint, and when functioning properly, the ball and socket do not actually touch because a thin disc of cartilage rides between them. The disc acts as a cushion and allows the joint to move smoothly. Each disc is held in place and guided by your jaw muscles. However, if your bite is off it can pull the joint out of alignment. Usually this pulls the disc forward so that the joint now rubs against the boney socket and presses on pain fibers. Mild displacements cause a clicking or popping sound in the jaw joint; more severe displacements can cause jaw pain and eventually can cause permanent damage to the joint.
Often you’ll find that you cannot open your mouth all the way, your jaw pops and clicks, your neck and head ache, sometimes even your arms, fingers, pelvis, legs, and feet can be affected.
The first goal in treating TMJD is to relieve the muscle spasms and pain by correcting the way your teeth fit together. At Dr. Matthews practice in Austin, we like to use an orthotic device (or splint) that you wear over your teeth while we stabilize your bite. Usually this involves creating an appliance you can wear at night to balance your bite and reduce or eliminate grinding or clenching. Often Dr. Matthews, a dentist in Austin, will adjust your crowns or bridges at our to create a better alignment.
There are several different causes of TMJD, however the most common is teeth grinding and clenching (or bruxism). This can be due to stress, which causes people to relieve nervous energy by unconsciously clenching or grinding their teeth. Habitual gum chewing or fingernail biting can also increase the odds of developing TMJD. Misalignment of teeth (or malocclusion) can make it difficult to find a comfortable bite. Another source of TMJ pain is what doctors call “forward head posture” — where the head leans forward, as opposed to being balanced on the neck. Because the head stretches the neck muscles, these muscles often pull the lower jaw back, putting stress on the temporomandibular joint. Additionally, traumas such as a fractured or dislocated jaw or facial bones, can also lead to TMJ disorders.
The key to successful treatment is to let Dr. Matthews or any of our staff know if you are experiencing symptoms of TMJ. If you or a family member are suffering from jaw pain, facial pain, neck pain, migraines or ear aches in the Austin area, call us at 512-452-2273 or make an appointment to see Dr. Matthews, a dentist in Austin, by clicking here. We look forward to helping your smile shine brighter.