When the TMJ (temporomandibular joint) fails to function correctly, it could leave you in a great deal of pain. The retrodiscal tissues (tissues behind TMJ) have a network of nerves that cause immense pain if inflamed and put under the slightest pressure. While there are numerous ways of alleviating the pain, including making simple lifestyle adjustments like quitting the habit of chewing gum, dental treatments offer the most effective solutions. Sometimes, modifying the teeth or seeking dental restoration treatments can give your bite a more comfortable balance. If you suffer from TMJ/TMD in Lomita, CA, we invite you to get in touch with Washington Dental for the best solutions.
Generally, our treatments entail unloading the retrodiscal tissues to allow them a full recovery. Depending on the cause and symptoms of a condition and your medical history, we may even recommend a bite guard (occlusal splint) to alleviate the pain. Other methods of reducing strain on the joints include trigger point injections, cold laser therapy, and electro-therapeutic point stimulation. We believe that the first step to finding lasting solutions is to diagnose your concern correctly.
Temporomandibular Joints (TMJ) Defined
The TMJs (temporomandibular joints) are two joints that attach your lower jaw to the skull. While the upper jaw is stationary, the TMJs can slide and rotate. They comprise the lower jaw (mandible) and the sides and base of the skull (temporal bone). They are considered top on the list of the most complex joints in the human body.
The mandible can move side to side, back and forth, and up and down thanks to the TMJ and various other muscles. For smooth muscle actions when talking, swallowing, and chewing, the TMJ and mandible need to be correctly aligned. Improper alignment or unsynchronized movement can cause immense pain.
Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD) Defined
Disorders of the TMJ, jaw muscles and the nerves surrounding them are generally referred to as temporomandibular disorders (TMD). These disorders are any irregularities that prevent the complex network of nerves, joints, bones, and muscles from working together rhythmically.
The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) classifies temporomandibular disorders as:
Degenerative Joint Disease
Some of the most common concerns classified under degenerative joint diseases include rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. A patient may have more than one degenerative joint disease in one go.
The majority of patients with TMD suffer from myofascial pain. This is pain or discomfort in the connective tissues covering the muscles, also known as the fascia. This pain also affects the muscles controlling the shoulder, neck, and jaw functions.
Internal Imbalance of the Joint
The TMJ comprises discs which are cartilage cushions found between the jawbone’s head and the skull. If a disc is displaced, your jaw dislocates, or the rounded ends of your jawbone (condyle) are injured, this may cause an internal imbalance of the TMJ.
As aforementioned, various approaches can be used to treat temporomandibular joint disorders. The proper treatment for you may depend highly on the cause of the disorder and the scale of your symptoms. More often than not, TMD can be treated or managed through dental work designed to bring balance to the biting surface of your teeth.
Understanding What Causes Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD)
The root cause of TMD is not clear. However, this condition typically occurs when the muscle groups controlling taking, chewing, and swallowing are put under too much pressure or strain. Often, a patient can involuntarily strain these muscles because of bruxism (the habit of grinding or clenching the teeth).
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), TMD can also be caused by various psychological, clinical, genetic, sensory, and nervous system factors. Even though TMD symptoms mainly stem from the TMJ, health conditions like irritable bowel syndrome can throw you into habits that tire the jaw. In return, this causes a cycle of tissue damage, sore muscles, and muscle spasms around the temporomandibular joint.
TMD can stem from TMJ problems like:
- Trauma to the TMJ or neighboring tissues
- Misaligned bite
- The psychological stress that forces you to clench your teeth or tighten the jaw and facial muscles
- Issues stemming from irregularities with the TMJ’s shape
- Degenerative joint diseases like rheumatoid arthritis
- Shifting of the articular disc
- Swelling or inflammation inside the TMJ
- Poor posture
- Bite imbalance that puts too much strain on the jaw
- Dental problems like missing teeth
- Chronic stress
- Lifestyle habits that put excessive strain on the jaw
TMD symptoms are mainly characterized by pain or discomfort on the TMJ. The pain can last for a few days or years, depending on the cause of the condition. This disorder is more common in people between the ages of 20 and 40 years, and it affects more women than men. Even though most patients are only affected on one side of their face, TMD can also affect both sides.
Some of the most common symptoms of the disorder include:
- Jaw soreness or discomfort that tends to be worse in the morning
- Pain that spreads to the face, shoulders, back, neck, and behind the ears
- Ringing in the ears or earaches that don’t stem from ear canal infections
- Headaches, toothaches, neck aches, and dizziness
- Popping/granting/clicking of the jaw
- Mouth motion limitations
- Locking of the jaw
- Ear congestion
- Teeth sensitivity that doesn’t stem from oral health issues
- A tingling or numb feeling in the fingers
- Irregularities in how your lower and upper jaws function together
- A tired sensation in your face
- Chewing and bite problems
- Swelling on the affected side of your face
- Upper shoulder pain
It remains imperative to see your dentist if you notice any of the above symptoms. Like most medical concerns, TMD tends to worsen when it goes untreated. Even though the pain mainly affects the jaw joint complex, it could spread to other areas.
Note that TMJ malfunction causes muscle tension and imbalance in the jaw. This triggers improper engagement of the musculature of the head and face. If left unresolved, symptoms may crop up to other parts of the body, including the shoulders, back, and neck.
Apart from experiencing deafening pain, failure to seek the necessary medical attention increases the risk of:
- Gumline recession
- Shifting of the teeth
- Increased teeth sensitivity
- Periodontal issues
- Multiple cracks in your teeth
- Damage to dental restorations like dental crowns
- Degenerative issues allied with the TMJ discs
Prosthodontists have the skills needed to treat or manage the pain associated with TMD effectively. Whether the expert recommends using stabilizing splints (bite guards) or a physical therapy regimen, the aim will be to lessen the pressure on the temporomandibular joint.
We have the best team of qualified, licensed, and seasoned prosthodontists. We can provide reliable treatment to treat the pain, enhance your dental health and give you an overall sense of well-being.
TMD Home Treatments
In the course of treatment, your dentist may recommend coupling professional treatments with home remedies.
Some of the most effective TMD home treatments include:
Pain Relieving and Anti-inflammatory Medications
Anti-inflammatory drugs can help to ease the swelling and pain associated with TMD. If the pain persists between your professional treatment appointments, you could seek over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen or naproxen.
Use Cold Packs or Moist Heat
Another effective way of managing the pain is to apply ice packs to the affected side of your face. Leave the pack on the area for about ten minutes as you do simple jaw stretches as recommended by your prosthodontist.
You can also hold a warm washcloth or towel to the affected side of your face. Leave it there for about five minutes. It is perfectly safe to do cold or hot water therapy several times daily.
Do a Few Dietary Changes
Some dietary changes may be necessary, especially when the pain is at its worst. You can reduce the strain and pressure on the TMJ by choosing soft foods over hard, crunchy, or chewy foods. It is also best to avoid large or thick foods that necessitate opening the mouth wide.
Some of the best foods to introduce into your diet include soups, fish, cottage cheese, mashed potatoes, yogurt, vegetables, beans, and cooked fruits. Also, ensure that anything that requires slicing is chopped into smaller pieces to allow you to chew less.
Avoid Activities That Demand Extreme Jaw Movements
Another effective home remedy is to steer clear of activities that demand extreme jaw movements. This includes chewing gum, yelling, singing, or yawning.
Make It a Habit to Keep Your Teeth Slightly Apart
While this may seem like an awkward tip, keeping your teeth apart as often as you may help with TMD pain. The idea is to relieve the joint of unnecessary pressure. You can put the tongue between the teeth to control grinding or clenching during daylight hours. The mouth guard should help during the night.
Practice Jaw Relaxation Techniques
Prosthodontists also recommend practicing jaw relaxation techniques. Again, the idea is to alleviate any unnecessary pressure on the TMJ. Sometimes, stress reduction therapy, massage, or physical therapy may be good for you. Talk to your dentist about this before you forge the best way forward.
Additionally, it may be necessary to avoid the habit of resting your chin on your hand or holding your phone between your ear and shoulder. Maintaining proper posture will also help with the pain, especially around the facial and neck muscles.
Where Should I Turn To For TMD Treatment?
Prosthodontists are trained to treat various issues, including oral injury, snoring disorders, sleep apnea, cleft palates, and TMJ disorders. Often prosthodontists collaborate with other dental professionals, especially when a patient requires tooth reconstruction, bridges, dental implants, and dentures.
The main difference between a prosthodontist and your regular dentist is that the former has undergone the standard four years of dental school to earn a DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) or DMD (Doctor of Dental Medicine) title. Additionally, the expert undergoes an extra three years of specialized training in prosthodontics.
An accredited prosthodontist can fix oral problems allied with jaw issues and missing teeth. For instance, if you have a dysfunctional bite and you are scheduled for dental surgery, the chances are that a prosthodontist will be involved during your treatment.
Let’s have a look at some of the available treatment options for TMJ/TMD
When managing TMD pain, it is best to steer clear of over-the-counter medications unless your dentist gives you the go-ahead. Once a concern is diagnosed, your prosthodontist may prescribe a high dosage of anti-inflammatories. This will help with the pain and swelling. Based on the root cause of TMD, a dentist may also prescribe anti-anxiety drugs to help control or reduce the pain.
Night guards are plastic mouthpieces that fit between the lower and upper teeth, preventing them from touching. The mouthpiece can come in handy if your TMD is caused by teeth grinding or clenching as you sleep. A night guard can also help correct a poor bite because it keeps the teeth in a more proper position.
If you also tend to clench your teeth during the day because of bruxism, a splint will be more appropriate. You can wear it discreetly during the day and night, although it may take a while to be used to wearing the device.
Often, you only need to wear the splint consecutively for about two weeks if your TMD stems from muscle spasms or a displaced disc. Treatment for severe inflammation may last for about three months to alleviate the pain and muscle tension. Your dentist will advise you appropriately.
Dental Work and Therapy
A poor bite can cause or aggravate TMD symptoms. In this case, your prosthodontist may recommend braces, crowns, dental implants, or bridges to correct your bite.
Other treatments ideal for TMJ disorders include:
- Laser therapy— Ideal for reducing TMJ pain and inflammation. This, in return, allows you to open the mouth wider and move the neck painlessly.
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) — A form of therapy that relaxes the facial muscles and jaw to provide the much-needed pain relief
- Ultrasound— Therapy involves using deep heat applied to alleviate soreness around the TMJ while simultaneously improving mobility.
- Radio wave therapy — This form of therapy eases TMJ pain by improving blood circulation around the site.
- Trigger-point injections — This involves injecting anesthesia or pain medication into the trigger points (tender facial muscles) for nearly instant pain relief.
If none of the above treatments seem to offer dependable results, TMJ surgery may be crucial. It remains imperative to consider surgery only as a last resort.
Three main surgical procedures can be used to treat TMD. The ideal option will highly depend on the cause of the disorder and the symptoms you experience.
These surgical options include:
If you lack a significant history of TMJ but suffer from a locked jaw, your prosthodontist may recommend arthrocentesis surgery. This is a minor procedure also referred to as joint aspiration. During treatment, the dentist inserts needles into the joint to dislodge the stuck disc, improve the temporomandibular joint movement, or remove damaged tissues.
Arthroscopy is done using an arthroscope. This is a unique tool that features a lens and has a light on it. After administering general anesthesia, your dentist will make a small incision in front of the ear, insert the arthroscope and use it to assess your TMJ and the surrounding tissues, muscles, and nerves. This allows realignment of the joint or a dislocated disc and the removal of any damaged or inflamed tissue.
Unlike arthrocentesis and arthroscopy, which are minimally invasive procedures, open-joint surgery is highly invasive. The procedure is considered a major operation and is hence more complex and requires a longer recovery time.
Your dentist may recommend open-joint surgery if:
- Diagnosis reveals tumors in or around the TMJ
- Your jaw’s bony structure is worn down
- The TMJ is shattered or packed with bone chips
How Is TMD Diagnosed?
The first step to treating TMD is a correct diagnosis. We offer treatment plans hinged on neuromuscular dentistry to ensure we achieve the best and long-lasting solutions. Neuromuscular dentistry involves ascertaining that your bite is in its proper place, and this naturally relaxes the muscles that support the jaw.
Our treatment approach restores the bite’s function and reduces the risk of the TMJ suffering from unnecessary stress or pressure. Often, patients suffer from TMD because a poor bite forces the TMJ out of place when the teeth come together. This puts unnecessary strain on the relevant muscles, forcing them to overwork, get inflamed, and cause pain.
Chronic overworking of TMJ muscles and the joint itself can be alleviated by repositioning your bite. This reduces the work of the joints and muscles in your head, neck, and shoulders when you talk, swallow, chew or yell. Other treatment approaches we use to target the source of TMJ strains like teeth grinding or clenching.
Some of the methods we use to diagnose temporomandibular joint disorders include:
Your Health History
One of the first things any qualified prosthodontist will consider is whether you have a jaw or facial pain history when you open your mouth, chew, or bite. Often, it is easier to decide on the most appropriate treatment based on how long you have suffered from TMJ pain and the unsuccessful treatment approaches so far.
One of the main symptoms of TMJ is clicking or popping sounds when you open and close the mouth. This is one of the first things your dentist will check. The practitioner will also examine your bite and jaw movements.
Once your health history is established and a dentist has also run some physical exams, the next step is to schedule imaging tests. MRIs, CT scans, and X-rays help to shed light on a diagnosis.
Often, physical exams are enough to establish whether a patient suffers from TMD. This disorder is typically evident based on the proportion of your face. Most patients with TMD have a retruded lower jaw, or their lower face will appear shorter or compressed. Treatment can therefore alleviate the pain and also make you look a few years younger.
If the proper treatment approach involves correcting your bite, we will begin by making temporary changes to your bite and analyzing the outcome. The idea is to find the correct bite before diving into dental work designed to make permanent changes and offer lasting solutions. Once we permanently correct your bite, there will be little or no risk of your TMD symptoms relapsing.
Tips To Maximize On TMD Treatments
TMD pain can take a toll on all areas of your life. It is not unusual for the pain and discomfort to make professional and social settings uncomfortable. If you have decided to seek treatment, here are some surefire tips to ensure you get the most from your prosthodontist:
- Keep an open mind during the consultation, diagnosis, and treatment process
- Don’t hesitate to ask the hard questions
- Research more about any information your dentist offers about diagnosis, medications, tests, treatments, etc.
- Ask your dentist about the benefits of the proposed prescriptions or procedures.
- Obtain as much information as possible about your treatment options
- Purpose to follow all directives given by your dentist during and in between treatments
- Find out how you can reach your provider in case of emergencies
Find Dental Solutions Near Me
If you are ready to be rid of TMD pain and discomfort, we invite you to contact Washington Dental. We specialize in helping TMJ disorder patients receive correct diagnoses for their concerns and benefit from top-notch treatment services. Whether treating TMD requires simple restorative corrections and physical therapy or requires surgery, we have a skilled in-house team to ensure the best outcome. We pride ourselves on providing personalized services that meet the individual needs of our clients. If you are in Lomita, CA, experiencing temporomandibular joint pain, stiffness, or reduced function, call us at 310-326-5183 for a no-obligation consultation.