According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, 5-12%
of adults worldwide have problems and pain related to the temporomandibular joints (TMJ) in their jaws. Women seem to be affected more often than men, and younger adults tend to experience more pain.
A TMJ disorder can create a wide variety of sometimes surprising symptoms. Dana J. Rockey, DMD, is an expert dentist at South County Sleep Solutions in Newport Beach, California, who focuses on wellness-based dentistry.
Here he discusses what a TMJ disorder is, what symptoms your misaligned jaw might cause, and how we can help you find relief.
A healthy TMJ moves smoothly
Each TMJ connects your jawbone to your skull, just under the level of your ear. When your TMJ is healthy, you can easily and smoothly open your jaw to speak, sing, yawn, or chew. You can also move it from side to side without pain or catching.
However, if you have a TMJ disorder, sometimes incompletely referred to as TMJ, your jaw may click or pop when you open or close it. You might also have trouble fully opening your jaw due to pain or limited mobility.
TMJ disorders affect your entire face
When your TMJ isn’t working properly, it can cause a variety of symptoms that affect your entire facial region. Some common symptoms of a TMJ disorder include:
- Jaw or facial pain
- Ear pain
- Tinnitus (ear ringing)
- Shoulder pain
- Difficulty chewing
If you have chronic pain or bruxism associated with a TMJ disorder, you may also have trouble sleeping. Feeling fatigued throughout the day is a dangerous symptom that puts you at increased risk for accidents and serious illnesses, including heart attack and stroke.
Why you have a TMJ disorder
Unfortunately, TMJ doesn’t have the same cause for everyone. You may have been born with a slight misalignment in your jaw that’s gotten worse over time.
You might also have suffered an accident, such as whiplash, that stressed your jaw and interfered with its proper alignment. Grinding your teeth at night, a condition known as bruxism, or even clenching your jaw when you’re under pressure can also contribute to a TMJ disorder. Osteoarthritis in your TMJ can cause or exacerbate pain and dysfunction.
How to treat TMJ
Dr. Rockey takes a holistic, supportive approach to all dental and sleep issues, including TMJ disorder. To get a full picture of why your TMJ isn’t functioning properly, he takes X-rays and conducts a thorough dental examination. He also evaluates the range of motion of your jaw and checks your teeth for evidence of bruxism.
His goal is to resolve your symptoms and improve the health of your TMJ without invasive procedures, such as surgery. Instead, he may recommend treatments such as:
- Relaxing your jaw
- Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories
- Over-the-counter pain relievers
- Physical therapy to strengthen your jaw
- Oral appliance to stop bruxism
- Nutrients to support jaw health
An oral appliance also helps you sleep better if you snore excessively or have obstructive sleep apnea.
Why you should treat TMJ
If your TMJ is mild and doesn’t cause symptoms, you may not need any treatment. However, if you have trouble opening or closing or jaw, or if you suffer from bruxism, your TMJ could worsen over time and cause serious jaw damage.
For TMJ evaluation and treatment, contact the friendly team at South County Sleep Solutions by calling 949-642-4632 or using the online booking form today.