“TMJ” has become the commonly used term for a wide range of dental problems associated with the bite. From jaw pain to headaches to an uncomfortable bite, the term TMJ is often used to describe the symptoms of what is clinically known as a temporomandibular disorder or TMD.
TMJ refers to the temporomandibular joint located at the base of the skull, connecting the temporal bone and the lower mandible or lower jaw. Located in front of the ears, the TMJ can be easily felt by pressing on this spot and moving the jaw. In addition to the adjoining bony structures, there is a complex system in place that moves the jaw which is comprised of nerves, tendons, ligaments, and muscles. When one or more components of this system are out of balance, damaged or is prevented in some way from functioning normally it can lead to the symptoms commonly associated with a TMJ disorder:
- Jaw pain
- Difficulty chewing
- Clicking or popping jaw joint
- Ear pain, ringing in the ears
- Frequent headaches
- Teeth or jaw clenching, also known as Bruxism
In many cases, the muscles of the TMJ become stressed and worn out trying to align the jaw properly to allow you to eat, speak and move the jaw joint. This constant stress can be the underlying reason for experiencing the common symptoms listed above. This muscle stress and tension can be inflammatory, impacting the nerves and other tissue in the area. The tension in the jaw muscles can also lead to tension in adjacent muscle groups such as the neck and shoulder muscles.
What Causes TMJ?
Leading research has shown that the majority of TMJ cases are the result of malocclusion that has impacted the development and function of the jaw. This often begins during early childhood and can be characterized by mouth breathing. Clinically speaking, mouth breathing can frequently set the stage for malocclusion and developmental changes to the position of the lower jaw. As we grow, these changes lead to the stress and tension discussed above on the function of the jaw joint.
When the bite is out of balance, the stage is also set for teeth grinding. Bruxism can cause jaw pain and tension and also puts the health of the teeth and gums at risk. The jaw muscle is very powerful, and when grinding one’s teeth or clenching the jaw undue pressure is placed upon the teeth, often leading to cracking, wearing of the biting surface and even loose teeth.
There are many different approaches to treating TMJ and associated symptoms. Dr. Hughes has committed many hours to post graduate training at the Las Vegas Institute where she has focused studies on the diagnosis and treatment of complex problems related to the bite. In her ongoing study of Physiologic Dentistry, she has developed an in-depth understanding of the development and characteristics of TMDs and offers a comprehensive treatment approach.
Dr. Hughes works with patients on an individual basis to develop a personalized treatment plan. The goal of your treatment is to achieve harmony in the function of your jaw joint be relaxing stressed muscles and allowing the jaw to rest in a natural, physiologic position.
Do I Have TMJ?
A TMJ related disorder can have many symptoms, some of which are listed above. In some cases, patients do not experience painful symptoms, but may notice that their teeth appear worn or their bite seems “uneven”. Dr. Hughes screens for the signs of a TMD during her comprehensive dental exams. She will evaluate the fit and function of your jaw joint and bite, working with you to identify any instability.
Resolving a TMJ related disorder can have a positive impact on many parts of your overall health and well being, from improved dental health to a better quality of life with less discomfort. When the bite is stable, physiologic and healthy, you can enjoy a comfortable smile that will also support long term oral health.