What is TMJ and How Does it Affect Your Smile?

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Patients and doctors alike have a tendency to misdiagnose or under-diagnose TMJ disorder and believe its symptoms to be a result of other health issues. Without proper diagnosis and treatment, however, symptoms will eventually progress and become problematic for those who experience them.

If you think you have TMJ, you are probably experiencing a variety of symptoms, and although they may all be linked to the disorder, it’s important to receive a proper diagnosis from a dental health professional.

With a dental examination, your dentist can assess your maxillofacial structure and determine whether the pain you are experiencing is due to TMJ or something else entirely. That’s when you can discuss the best treatment option for your needs.

TMJ can create rather debilitating symptoms that can impact your everyday life. If you believe you have fallen victim to the disorder, there are a few things you should know as you continue to search for the most effective method of treatment.

What is TMJ?

TMJ disorder comes as a result of malfunctioning in the temporomandibular joint, which is responsible for hinging your jaw together with your skull. Your ability to yawn, chew, speak, laugh or smile is due to your temporormandibular joint, so when problems arise, it can become difficult to perform these normal functions.

When the temporomandibular joint stops working properly, you might become prone to headaches, earaches, pressure behind the eyes or tension in the jaw. You may also notice that your jaw doesn’t come together comfortably or locks and creates popping noises when you open your mouth. These are all signs that you are experiencing some form of TMJ.

What Causes TMJ?

We’re still unsure of what exactly causes TMJ disorder, but there have been links between the onset of dental trauma and TMJ malfunctioning. Many people who have been in a car crash, for example, experience pain in their jaw afterwards, especially if they suffered from whiplash.

Teeth-grinding or jaw clenching at night can also create issues with the temporomandibular joint. Known as a stress-induced behavior, teeth-grinding places additional pressure on the jaw joint that may create tension and pain.

How Can TMJ Affect Your Smile?

If left to progress, TMJ can quite literally keep you from smiling at all. Since the temporomandibular joint is responsible for your ability to smile, any pain in the area may make movement in the mouth difficult.

TMJ can also create additional wear on your teeth, particularly if you have the disorder as a result of teeth-grinding. As your jaws continue to place pressure on one another, your tooth enamel will begin to break down and eventually cause your teeth to fracture.

Additionally, your teeth will begin to shift to accommodate the added pressure. This movement will disturb your bite position and potentially increase the amount of pain you already have.

If you are noticing damage to your teeth as a result of TMJ, restorative or orthodontic solutions may be necessary to correct your alignment and straighten your teeth. Treatments like crowns, dental implants, veneers or braces can each help improve your dentition.

How is TMJ Diagnosed?

It’s important to locate a dentist who has experience recognizing and treating TMJ. Because the disorder is so often misdiagnosed, an inaccurate treatment option is often prescribed, which can either be ineffective or make the disorder worse. It’s important to receive a proper diagnosis so that you can eliminate pain as quickly as possible.

At La Jolla Cosmetic Dentistry & Orthodontics, we start your diagnosis by listening to your dental concerns and locating the areas where you have pain. We’ll perform a dental examination and take digital x-rays so that we can get a better idea of what is causing your discomfort.

We will also assess your jaw movement and listen for any abnormal sounds your jaw might be making. Once we have determined that your facial pain is a result of TMJ, we can begin discussing available treatment options.

What TMJ Treatments are Available?

Depending on the origins of your particular disorder — whether you are experiencing TMJ as a result of teeth-grinding, dental trauma, a poor bite position or arthritis — you have several treatment options that can help alleviate your discomfort.

If you grind your teeth, you may benefit from a night guard that you wear as you sleep. The device provides a layer of cushioning between your upper and lower dental arches and absorbs the pressure as they clench together. A night guard can ease much of the pain from TMJ and is customized to fit comfortably within your mouth.

BOTOX® is another method of treatment that has recently been shown to alleviate TMJ pain. BOTOX® is used as a temporary muscle relaxant that commonly aids in wrinkle reduction, but can also be used to calm jaw muscles if they are contracting from a malfunctioning temporomandibular joint. With regular injections every three months, your muscles will continue to relax and allow your jaw to move freely.

To treat issues with your bite position, accelerated adult orthodontics can help return your teeth to a comfortable alignment and keep TMJ symptoms from worsening. Treatment may include clear braces and other aesthetically-pleasing orthodontic solutions to help shift teeth back into place.

Other treatments include oral medications, such as anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants, physical therapy to help strengthen the jaw muscles and make the pain more tolerable, and surgery in more severe cases. The treatment option recommended for you is based on the symptoms you are experiencing, their cause, and their severity. Several treatment options may be used in combination with one another in order to produce the most effective result.

If you believe you are suffering from TMJ and would like more information about the disorder, contact La Jolla Cosmetic Dentistry & Orthodontics at 858-622-1007 and receive a professional diagnosis with Dr. Kohani. Schedule a consultation today to learn more!