The joint on either side of your mandible (lower jaw) where it attaches is called the temporomandibular jointor “TMJ” for short. Since we move our TMJ thousands of times a day, it tends to be one of the most-used joints in the entire body. You need it for eating, talking, and even smiling.
When the TMJ doesn’t function properly, we say that temporomandibular joint disorder is at play. The condition is frequently referred to as “TMD”, “TMJD”, or in typical layman’s terms, just “TMJ”. While all of us have a TMJ, only a small percentage of individuals have a clinical TMJ disorder.
Symptoms of TMJ Disorder (TMD)
Popping and Clicking — Are there audible sounds coming from your TMJ when you move your jaw up and down? Popping, clicking, and “crepitation” (a grinding-type of noise) are linked to problems with the disc inside of your TMJ or the bones rubbing together where they ought not to. Try not to replicate the sound on command, but if it’s something that happens with everyday use be sure to make us aware of it.
Joint Pain and Soreness — Most people assume that if they have a sore jaw, they have “TMJ” disorder. In reality, clinical temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD/TMJD) is associated with chronic pain and discomfort. It’s common to get TMJ pain from time to time, but it’s not normal for the pain to be ongoing or severe. If eating hard foods or chewing gum causes flare ups, it’s best to give your jaws a rest. When rest doesn’t improve the symptoms, you may need to see one of our Long Island dentists.
Limited Range of Motion — Classic TMD/TMJ disorder typically results in less flexibility inside of the joint. When it comes to eating or laughing, you’ll typically experience a limited range of motion where your mouth cannot open as wide as it normally does. Our Suffolk County dentists will measure your opening width to determine whether it falls within a healthy range or not.
Headaches, Shoulder, or Upper Back Pain — The muscles that attach to the different parts of your TMJ also attach higher up in your temples, neck, and down into your shoulders. When they’re constantly tensed or overworked, it can create pain in areas other than your mouth. TMJ disorder can easily co-exist with other musculoskeletal pain. Even though we’re a dentist, let us know if you’re struggling with issues like constant neck and shoulder discomfort.
Flat, Worn, Broken Teeth — Tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the entire human body. Crooked teeth that bite together irregularly can lead to abnormal wear patterns as they grind against one another. In time, these irregular pressure points can cause chipped teeth, broken dental work, and premature wear that causes teeth to look “flat” or “short”.
Known Causes of TMJD/TMD
Crooked or Misaligned Teeth — Instead of performing optimally, misaligned biting patterns result in compromised jaw movements that radiate up to your TMJ. When your TMJ is going out of its way to facilitate proper chewing, the irregular patterns can gradually take a toll on your internal joint structures. That’s why orthodontic therapy is sometimes recommended for treating or managing TMJ pain.
Bruxism (Clenching and Grinding) — Habitual clenching and grinding (“bruxism”) may be something you do during the day while you’re focused on work or driving. It can also happen when you’re sleeping, causing you to wake up with a headache or sore jaws. Bruxism is something that people can do either while they’re awake or while they’re sleeping. If it’s during the daytime, try to train your mouth to rest in a position where your lips are touching but your teeth are apart.
Sleep Apnea — Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) often leads to contraction and clenching of the jaw muscles and TMJ joint. For some reason when our bodies are deprived of oxygen, the jaw and TMJ clench tightly shut, leading to strain in the immediate area around it. Other symptoms of sleeping disorders mirror that of bruxism. A sleep apnea screening or home sleep study may be necessary to rule out a breathing disorder.
Stress — Tough work environments or stress in your personal life can lead to more than just tension headaches. Chances are you may be clenching your teeth or tightening your muscles, resulting in pain that radiates through your face, temples, TMJ, neck, shoulders, and back. If you feel yourself tightening up your hands while you’re driving home or constantly dealing with headaches, you might want to rule out stress as a cause for your TMJ pain.
Injuries and Trauma — Factors like athletic injuries or an automobile accident can leave you with more than just a few bumps and bruises. A blow to your jaw or side of your face could hurt your TMJ, making it sore when you move your mouth. If symptoms don’t clear up within six weeks of rest and recovery, be sure to let us know. Serious injuries that result in broken jaws or facial bones should be addressed right away.
Anatomical Issues — Since your TMJ is made up of a series of ligaments and cartilage, it’s possible for your anatomy to be responsible for TMD and TMJ pain. An X-ray or CT scan will show us what’s going on in and around your joint, so that we can pinpoint any physical issues.
Best Treatment for TMJ Disorder
The multi-specialty general dentistry team at Sachem Dental Group has been helping Suffolk County families enjoy healthier smiles for over 35 years. During your exam with one of our Long Island dentists, we’ll evaluate your TMJ function, review what symptoms you’re experiencing, and help you choose the best treatment for your TMJ pain. Average TMJ therapies range from bite splints to orthodontic therapy, depending on the cause of your condition.
Fortunately, surgery for TMJ disorders is usually a last result. The best treatment or therapy for TMD is usually a non-invasive option that addresses the source of the pain.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact Sachem Dental Group today.