What Is TMJ?
TMJ is short for temporomandibular joint disorder (or dysfunction). It is also sometimes called TMD, or several other names. The temporomandibular joints are on either side of your head, where your jaw meets your skull, and they are responsible for the complex motions of your jaw. In TMJ, these joints do not function properly or are out of harmony with the muscles, teeth, and other bones they must work with.
When your temporomandibular joints are not working properly, the muscles of your jaw put stress on the other muscles they partner with, including muscles in the head and neck, which can create tension. An imbalanced jaw leads to imbalanced forces in your bite, causing excess wear and damage to your teeth. And when you have a misaligned jaw, it can put pressure on nearby nerves, causing pain, numbness, and ringing in your ears.
Because of the impact of your jaw imbalance on other systems, the symptoms of TMJ can be very widespread, and may include:
- Jaw pain
- Clicking, popping, or stiffness in the jaw
- Tinnitus (ringing or other sounds in the ears)
- Tooth pain
- Face pain
- Neck pain or stiffness
Other people may report daytime sleepiness or extreme fatigue that is not related to TMJ. It is instead caused by the potentially related condition obstructive sleep apnea.
The symptoms of TMJ can make it very hard to diagnose, and explain why many people with TMJ continue to suffer even after seeking many different treatment options.
The good news about TMJ is that it is highly treatable. The first stage in TMJ treatment is to evaluate the current condition of your jaw system. We complete this by listening to your description of symptoms and examining the condition of your teeth and jaw. We may recommend other tests, such as CT scans and MRIs.
Sometimes, we may determine that we can’t be sure about the condition of your jaw until after we have “deprogrammed” your jaw muscles. You can accomplish this by wearing a bite appliance similar to a retainer that helps put your jaws in an optimally relaxed position. Then we can determine whether your jaw can stay in its optimal position or whether you need further treatment.
Before recommending treatment, we will attempt to assess the likely causes of your TMJ. We will then explain to you your options, the odds of success for each option, and your likely long-term outcome with each.
Remember, sometimes the best treatment option is no treatment at all. Other times, we may refer you to a specialist for handling your condition.