“TMJ” is a popular term used to describe a disorder of the temporomandibular joint and the chewing system. TMD (temporomandibular dysfunction) is a dental term used to describe a group of symptoms that result from unbalanced chewing system. This includes the jaw joints, chewing muscles, airway and teeth.
Thee symptoms associated with an unbalanced chewing system are many. The symptoms can masquerade as sinus problems, earaches, headaches, neck and shoulder stiffness, tooth aches, and other confusing painful symptoms of the head and face. These symptoms include but are not limited to:
- Clicking or popping noises
- Pain to opening or closing
- Limited mouth opening
- Locking of the jaw open or closed
- Pain behind the ears
- Earaches or ringing in the ears
- Worn, broken, loose and chipped teeth
- Neck, shoulder or back pain
Because the symptoms masquerade as so many different conditions, many people travel from doctor to doctor in search for relief. Often patients go from dentist to orthodontist to chiropractor, to ENT, to physical therapist. Sadly, these patients get some relief that will return because the true cause of the disease in not eliminated. Instead, their symptoms are masked.
A diagnosis of “TMJ” involves a thorough history from when the disorder first started. A physical exam will help to separate the parts of the diagnosis into smaller pieces that can be more easily managed. Once a proper diagnosis is made, the first step is to “put out the fires” – relieve the pain and tenderness and stabilize the jaw joint in the socket. This is usually done with an orthotic or “bite splint” worn full time.
In a relatively short period of time, we can achieve stability on the orthotic. This will rebalance your biting system. We then move to a second phase of evaluation for corrective options. Permanent correction can involve minimally invasive over molding with composite resins. In some cases, it may be necessary to place crowns on the teeth or have orthodontics completed. Rarely is surgery needed.