A disorder of the temporomandibular joint is commonly called TMJ. Affecting millions of people, the symptoms of a problem in the joint that connects the lower jaw to the skull range from mild to severe. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to get relief from TMJ, nearly all of which are non-surgical. In fact, curing TMJ may be as easy as modifying your lifestyle, or adopting the use of a custom night guard (oral appliance). Here’s what you need to know about keeping TMJ symptoms at bay.
Treatment for TMJ Depends On the Cause
TMJ may be caused by:
- Grinding or clenching your teeth at night (bruxism)
- Wear and tear on the joint
- Injury to the jaw (dislocation in the joint)
- Congenital defect
If your dentist determines that the cause of your TMJ pain is bruxism, you will be fitted for a custom night guard. Custom night guards prevent teeth clenching and grinding, which put a strain on the bones, ligaments, and muscles in the joint. Getting fitted for a custom night guard is completely painless. It may take a few days to adjust to wearing the nightguard when you sleep, but it won’t hurt, either.
If your dentist determines that pain or discomfort in your jaw joint is due to wear and tear or arthritis in the joint, a variety of nonsurgical treatments may be recommended. You may be advised to ice the joint, take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, and switch to a soft food diet to allow the inflammation to subside.
Don’t be surprised if your dentist asks about your stress level, particularly if you’re experiencing TMJ symptoms for the first time. Although stress is not the direct cause of TMJ pain, it is linked
to teeth grinding. Moreover, stress is known to cause inflammation, which can exacerbate arthritis. Your dentist may recommend stress-reducing activities such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, walks in nature, or any other activity that helps you relax.
TMJ that results from a defect in the structure of the jaw joint, often present from birth, will likely require surgery. Likewise, severe trauma to the jaw, resulting in a dislocation in the jaw joint may require surgery to correct.
When Should I Seek Treatment for TMJ?
Unless your TMJ pain is severe, or accompanied by clicking, popping, or locking, you may try conservative treatments at home, such as icing your jaw. Occasional teeth grinding, particularly during periods of high stress, is not uncommon. However, if the pain is severe, lingers, or begins to negatively impact your quality of life, it’s important to see a dentist immediately.
Chronic teeth grinding, or clenching your teeth while you sleep can cause a variety of problems ranging from worn teeth to cracked teeth to damaged dental restorations such as fillings and crowns. In severe cases, chronic teeth grinding can lead to tooth loss.
Although mild pain in the jaw joint isn’t generally an emergency, it is best to err on the side of caution and be evaluated by an experienced dentist if you develop TMJ symptoms.