What is TMJ?
The letters, TMJ, are a commonly used abbreviation for the temporomandibular joint. This is the joint found in front of the ear, connecting the jawbone to the skull. But, often, the term “TMJ” is used to describe a broader condition that may involve strain and lack of balance within the muscles of the jaw and neck as well as the bones of the skull and face. This is more accurately described as TMD or Temporomandibular Disorder.
The effects of TMD are not limited to the head, neck, or jaw; they have the potential to affect the function of the whole body. This diffusion of symptoms is one of the reasons TMJ disorders are so often overlooked and misdiagnosed. We have seen many cases in which the correction of the underlying jaw problem has led to relief of chronic back problems, breathing problems, difficulty walking, foot problems, digestive issues, fatigue, and generalized stress.
We recently had a patient who came in with a toothache. Another dentist told her she needed root canal treatment but she wanted a second opinion. It turns out the pain was caused by her bite putting too much pressure on her tooth! We made her a simple bite support to keep pressure off the sore tooth. The next week she came back to see us, grateful for the relief of her toothache, and even better, she said that wearing the bite support had given her relief of severe and debilitating back pain! She had been at her wit’s end with the back pain. Had been told by doctors that only surgery offered hope of relief.
How Do You Know You Have a TMJ / TMD Disorder?
There are many different symptoms of TMJ. When the TM joint is not working properly, you may experience:
- noise and/or pain as you open and close your mouth
- pain in your jaw muscles as you chew and even when at rest
- ear symptoms (ear pain, stuffiness or itching, loss of hearing, dizziness, tinnitus)
- eye symptoms (pain in or behind the eyes, blurring of vision).
- pain in a tooth or sensitivity of the teeth
- chronic headache or migraine
- pain anywhere in the face, head, or neck
- stiff neck
- low back pain
- grinding or clenching of the teeth are also a sure sign of a TMJ disorder
How Are TMJ / TMD Problems Corrected?
The treatment of each person suffering from TMJ disorder must be tailored to the particular needs of the individual. A careful study must be done to clearly define the nature of the your problem. This involves a thorough consultation and a thorough examination.
During the examination, an evaluation is made of the sites of your pain, as well as of the functional integration of related body systems. We often make plaster models of your teeth to help us understand how your bite may contribute to your condition. In some cases we use special x‑rays of the TMJ, computerized neuromuscular analysis of jaw function, and even sonography to listen to jaw sounds.
We often begin TMJ / TMD treatment with gentle pain relieving techniques drawn from Acupuncture, Applied Kinesiology, and Cranial‑Sacral Therapy.
When appropriate, we provide TMJ treatments with moist heat packs or cold laser therapy.
We may use different bite appliances, used in sequence, to provide corrective support to the bite, that will relax and balance your jaw muscles, and by extension, the muscles through your body.
The goal is to bring the TM joint and the muscles of the jaw into a comfortable and healthful balance. It is often important for patients to receive appropriate care from either an osteopath, a chiropractor, or a physical therapist during this time to ensure that the neck and spine are also brought into proper alignment. Once comfort and balance have been achieved, it may be appropriate to discuss the correction of your bite with either Orthodontics and / or Restorative Dentistry.