Causes of TMJ
Your Guide to TMJ Disorders
You may not always think about your jaw joint, but when it’s not working properly, it can cause a lot of pain. The pain and stiffness in your jaw joint can make it hard for you to eat the things you love.
At PRECiDENT, we take TMJ disorders seriously. Our team of specialists are committed to making sure you get the care you need so you can get back to living your life without jaw joint pain. As TMJ experts, we want to make sure you have all the information you need in order to make the right decisions when it comes to treatment options. That is the goal of our TMJ Center. We’ve pulled together all the information you need to answer your questions about TMJ disorders.
Table of Contents
What is a TMJ Disorder?
TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint. The TMJ is the joint that connects your jawbone to your skull. You have one on both sides of your face. Your jaw joint acts as a hinge that allows you to open and close your mouth and move your jaw side to side.
The TMJ is just like every other joint in your body. It has ligaments, muscles, and tendons. The TMJ also has a disc that contains synovial fluid, which is crucial for the proper function of the jaw joint. When your jaw joint is damaged or misaligned, it is known as a TMJ disorder.
What Are the Symptoms of a TMJ Disorder?
TMJ disorders can often go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for years because many of the symptoms associated with the TMJ are seen in other conditions as well. It’s important to have a thorough diagnosis to make sure you get the proper treatment. If you have one or more of the following symptoms, you may want to talk to your doctor about TMJ disorders:
- Jaw pain
- Clicking and popping in the jaw
- Difficulty chewing and opening your mouth
- Frequent headaches
Ear pain is another common symptom of TMJ disorders. A lot of our TMJ patients are referred to us from an ENT after they thought they had an ear infection. The nerves that surround the TMJ are many of the same sensory nerves that supply the ear with sensation as well. So, when there is an injury or damage to the TMJ, it can feel like an ear infection. Many physicians assume that the ear is hurting because of pressure in the ear when, really, it’s because of issues in the jaw. Of course, if you have ear pain, an infection is a possibility. But if you have been treated for ear infections without any relief, it may be time to consider taking a look at your jaw joint–especially if you’re having jaw pain as well.
What Are the Causes of TMJ Disorders?
There is not a single cause of TMJ disorders, and the exact cause for an individual patient can be difficult to determine. However, a thorough diagnosis from an expert in TMJ disorders can help narrow down the problem. Understanding the anatomy of the jaw joint is the key to figuring out the cause. There are also several risk factors that make you more likely to develop a TMJ disorder.
The TMJ works like the other joints in your body. It’s made up of ligaments and tendons, and it’s surrounded by muscles. The jaw joint also has a synovial disc, which supplies nutrition and lubrication to the joint, allowing the joint to move easily. If any part of this system is damaged, the other parts can begin to break down as well. Muscles can become overworked, the synovial disc can become displaced, and arthritis can cause the tissues in the joint to wear out. Because of the anatomy of the jaw joint, we need to take an orthopedic approach to determine the cause of your TMJ disorder. This means treating the jaw joint like a normal joint. The same issues that cause pain in your knees and hips can also cause TMJ disorders.
How Do We Diagnose TMJ Disorders?
Your jaw joint is a very complex system. This complexity can make it difficult to diagnose root causes of TMJ disorders properly. When you come to PRECiDENT with jaw pain, we will thoroughly evaluate your jaw. We want to look at every part of your jaw. And when we evaluate you for a TMJ disorder, we’re not just looking at the joint itself. We want to look at the whole system. We’re asking questions like:
- What do the ligaments look like?
- What do the muscles look like?
- How is your joint moving?
We take a comprehensive, orthopedic approach to diagnosing TMJ disorders. The TMJ is similar to other joints in the body like the knee or the hip, and it’s important to keep that in mind when evaluating patients with jaw pain. A thorough diagnosis is crucial for offering the best treatment possible. It’s not enough to simply provide pain management for TMJ pain. We want to find solutions for you that last long-term.
The Diagnostic Process
We’ll start by getting some information about your medical history. Medical conditions such as arthritis or past injuries can help us understand more about what is going on with your jaw. We also want to know about things like mouth breathing while you sleep or a bad bite so we can address those issues while we’re evaluating your TMJ. Any information on orthodontic or previous dental work will be helpful as well. Sometimes, adjustments to your bite or other dental procedures can have an effect on your jaw joint. The more information you can provide about your symptoms and medical history, the easier it will be for us to understand the underlying problem.
The next step in the diagnosis process is the physical exam. We’ll look for any sign of misalignment by feeling your jaw while you open and close it. We’ll also listen for any popping or clicking sounds.
After reviewing your medical history and examining your jaw joint, we may need to get a better look at what’s going on in the jaw joint. So, we may need to get an X-Ray, CT scan, or MRI. These scans will give us a better picture of what is actually happening with your jaw joint.
Treatment Options for TMJ Disorders
The treatment for a TMJ disorder depends on what is causing it. That’s why we take so much time evaluating your jaw joint before offering treatment options. When the diagnostic process is rushed, physicians end up prescribing treatments that don’t help the patient. They manage the pain and symptoms instead of treating the underlying cause.
For mild cases of TMJ disorders, symptom management may be a viable, non-surgical treatment option. In those cases, we recommend various combinations of the following:
Keep in mind, your jaw joint is similar to the other joints in the body. When you hurt your knee or your hip, your doctor will usually tell you to stay off of it for a while to let it heal. Your TMJ is no different. If your TMJ is damaged in any way, it’s important to rest it. We usually recommend going on a soft diet for a while to see if that helps your pain at all.
Ever wear a knee wrap or brace? Depending on the situation, your surgeon may prescribe a bite splint that acts in a similar way, by supporting your jaw in its correct position relative to the joint. This can reduce pain and prevent further damage. Some patients respond well to this mouthpiece and find relief for months or years; others do not. And even those who do find relief may need to take additional measures in the future. Sometimes, however, people find complete relief and never have any issues again.
Pain and Inflammation Management
An anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen, can also be very helpful in the management of jaw joint pain. Heat and/or ice are other options to help reduce inflammation and stress on the jaw.
Surgical Treatment for TMJ Disorders
In more severe cases, the only lasting treatment for a TMJ disorder is surgery. Of course, all surgeries have risks, and our surgeons at PRECiDENT will carefully consider all other options, first. If surgery is necessary for optimal health, then your surgeon will review all of your health history and risk factors to minimize any potential complications.
Depending on your particular case, your surgeon may recommend one or a combination of the following:
- Open joint surgery
Read More About TMJ Disorders
Can surgery fix TMJ disorders?
Dealing with TMJ pain can be frustrating. It can be even more frustrating when you can’t find a solution that works. Most TMJ disorders can be resolved with conservative, non-surgical treatment options. Simply resting the joint, using ice/heat therapy, and taking pain medication typically does the trick. However, these things don’t work for everyone. If these more conservative options aren’t working for you, it may be time to consider whether or not surgery can solve your TMJ problems.
In this article, we’ll take a look at how TMJ surgery can help you find relief and whether it’s worth considering for your situation.
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Our TMJ Specialists Are Here for You
Our goal at PRECiDENT is always to make sure we find solutions that really work for our patients. We know that living with the pain of TMJ disorders can be frustrating and painful and can get in the way of your life. That’s why we take so much time working with you to understand what is going on with your jaw joint. If you are tired of dealing with the pain of a damaged jaw joint, our TMJ specialists are here to help you find relief.Schedule a consultation today, and we will help you get started on the path to a pain-free life.