It’s that time of the year again … November is National TMJ Awareness Month.
While many people may not have heard of temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder, frequently referred to as TMJ or TMD, it is one of the most commonly suffered conditions millions of Americans deal with.
While the causes of TMJ vary, stress can be a primary factor in many cases. Unfortunately, 2020 has been a year filled with great uncertainty, and all that tension could be leading to pain around your jaw joints and the surrounding muscles that help to control jaw movement.
Though the condition doesn’t necessarily mean you have a serious problem on hand, the pain can still be debilitating for weeks on end and can occur in cycles. However, for others, if left untreated, TMJ can develop into significant, long-term problems.
Your McAllen family and pediatric dentist at Heroes Dental can offer you meaningful, quality care if you’ve been suffering for some time now from TMJ. Read on to learn about the condition, symptoms, treatment, and all about TMJ.
The Basics of the TMJ
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) works like a sliding hinge, connecting your jawbone to your skull. This ball and socket joint, which are located on both sides of your mouth, support a variety of muscles and ligaments that allow you to open and close your jaw, as well as swallow.
TMJ disorder affects these joints, causing substantial pain to the structures that help to control your jaw.
Watch Out for These TMJ Disorder Symptoms
There are a variety of symptoms and signs that should be noted if you believe you are suffering from TMJ disorder. Naturally, the first sign is going to be pain in the area around your jaw joints and muscles. Additional TMJ disorder symptoms to watch out for include:
- Pain or tenderness radiating from the face, jaw, or neck
- Difficulty opening and closing your mouth
- Pain around the ears
- Tension headaches or migraines
- Neck/shoulder pain
- Difficulty chewing
- Painful clicking, popping, or grinding in the jaw joints
- Limitations in jaw movements
- Locking of the jaw
What Are Some of the Causes of TMJ Disorder?
There are a number of causes or reasons why you may be suffering from TMJ disorder.
- If you feel the pain comes from the joint area, this may be a sign that you are developing arthritis.
- If you feel that the pain is more intense in the morning or after taking naps, this could be caused by teeth clenching or grinding that occurs during sleep.
- Stress is thought to be another major factor in TMJ disorder, generally due to unconscious teeth grinding or clenching. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see that the number of TMJ disorder cases have risen steadily in 2020.
- Frequently overusing your jaw, such as daily gum chewing, can lead to TMJ pain.
Some Risk Factors that Can Increase the Likelihood of TMJ Disorder
There are a number of risk factors that can increase the likelihood of you developing TMJ issues, including:
- Arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
- Jaw injuries, including breaks, fractures, or dislocations.
- Chronic grinding and/or clenching of your teeth.
- Connective tissue conditions and conditions can cause problems that affect your TMJ.
- An improper bite or misalignment.
- Studies have shown that TMJ disorder affects twice as many women as men.
While not fully understood, medical professionals are generally in agreement that the following conditions can essentially worsen your TMJ disorder:
- Myofascial pain
- Internal injury to the joint
- Bruxism (grinding of the teeth)
- Malocclusion (misalignment of the jaw)
- Prognathism (protruding jaw)
- Hyperactive jaw muscles
How Dentists Diagnose TMJ Disorder
When you decide to visit our McAllen family and pediatric dentist, they can review your symptoms and safely examine your jaw to check for any issues with your TMJ. Depending on your particular needs, our dentist will:
- Listen to and feel your jaw as you open and close your mouth.
- Identify areas of pain or discomfort by pressing around your jaw.
- Analyze the range of motion of your jaw.
- Utilize dental x-rays to further examine your teeth and jaws.
- If necessary, a CT scan or MRI may be performed in order to obtain more accurate images of your bones, joint disks, and surrounding soft tissue.
Remember, the most important step you can take is to visit your dentist so that they can identify the actual issue at hand.
When Should I See a Dentist?
If you’ve been dealing with persistent pain in your jaw, have had issues with opening or closing your jaw, or are suffering from painful pops and clicks in your mouth when you talk or chew, then it is in your best interest to visit with your dentist immediately.
The longer you wait, the greater the likelihood that you can cause permanent damage.
How Will My TMJ Disorder Be Treated?
When it comes to TMJ disorder treatment, thankfully, there are a number of non-invasive treatments that typically provide the comfort and pain relief you need. Even in severe or persistent cases, most patients will not require any surgeries or other types of aggressive treatment.
Because TMJ tends to be a temporary issue for most patients, there are a number of relatively simple (and cost-effective) treatments that can be used to relieve your pain and improve your quality of life, including:
- Self-care practices: If you are suffering from TMJ disorder, ease your pain by eating soft foods, applying ice packs to painful areas, avoid frequent or awkward jaw movements, and learn how to softly massage bothersome areas of your jaw.
- Pain medication: While not the ideal long-term solution, over-the-counter pain-relieving medications are usually effective when your TMJ symptoms arise. Depending on your exact needs, your dentist or doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications or muscle relaxants.
The Effects of Stress & Bruxism on Your TMJ
Life can be challenging at times, and this whole year has definitely been an unexpected journey for most. All across the nation, anxiety and stress have undoubtedly increased. All the pressures of your daily life can cause you to grind or clench your jaw subconsciously, and particularly at night while you sleep. The technical name for this condition is bruxism.
Because teeth grinding occurs most often at night, you may not notice you are doing so until you begin to feel soreness and tenderness along your jaw joints and muscles. Over time, this continuous pressure can lead to increased tooth sensitivity and the wearing down of your enamel, which can eventually lead to tooth damage.
If you notice that you are grinding your teeth or that stress has made your teeth grinding worse, consider reaching out to your McAllen family and pediatric dentists at Heroes Dental to learn more about possible solutions, which can include mouthguards.
The mouthguards used for treating TMJ disorder and bruxism function a bit differently than those made strictly for teeth grinding. These particular mouthguards are made of rigid material that help to raise your bite and reposition the jaw to alleviate discomfort. Due to the precise nature of a TMJ splint, your dentist may need to readjust multiple times to get the right position to provide ideal comfort.
Your Teeth Might’ve Taken a Beating in 2020
The stressors and general chaos of 2020 might’ve led to plenty of teeth clenching and jaw grinding episodes throughout the year. Unfortunately, this could’ve caused some major damage to your teeth, affecting your enamel, jaw, and their general strength.
Individuals should also be conscious of their daily activities and posture. Since many individuals are now working from home, constantly sitting at a desk, this can affect how they sleep and thus their oral health. Give yourself some time each day to stretch and move around a bit.
Additionally, daily exercise can prove to be greatly beneficial for your mental health, which can, in turn, help to reduce unconscious grinding or jaw clenching.
Don’t underestimate how stress can affect your body. Make sure to give yourself time to relax and unwind at night. Consider taking on a hobby that can help to alleviate stress; even light activity like yoga and meditation can prove helpful.
Don’t Let Your TMJ Pain Stop You From Smiling!
This TMJ Awareness Month, give your teeth, jaw, and smile the attention they deserve. If TMJ pain has been making your life unbearable, it’s time to turn that frown upside down. Our McAllen family dentists and local pediatric dentists have the experience, skills, and abilities to help ease your pain and bring back that gorgeous smile of yours.
Also, because we know that COVID-19 is still at the top of everyone’s mind, we want to ensure you that we do everything we can to protect the health and well-being of our guests. From frequent sanitation efforts to in-office social distancing and beyond, we do everything to make you and your little heroes safe.