The Temporomandibular Joints, also known as TMJ
Every movement you make when opening or closing your mouth uses two little joints with a big name: temporomandibular joints. These joints, usually abbreviated to TMJ, are located on either side of your face, in front of your ears, and act as a crucial link between your skull and jawbone. While small in size, this link can have big effects on many things within your body, such as the ability to speak, chew, yawn and swallow.
Differentiating themselves from the other joints in the body, the TMJ are able to move in multiple directions. While the knee and elbow only move back and forth, the TMJ have a full range of movement. This three-dimensional flexibility makes the TMJ two of the most complex joints in the body. If something damaging ever happens to the TMJ, the problems that occur afterwards are referred to as TMJ-dysfunctions or TMJ-disorders.
TMJ issues come with many symptoms. People suffering from TMJ-dysfunction/disorder may experience frequent headaches, pains in the neck, back or shoulders, ear pain, dizziness, ringing in the ears or jaw clicking. If you ever experience those problems and are unsure what is causing them, a visit to your dentist might be in order, as it could be TMJ related.
At Fuqua Advanced Dental, we know that TMJ-dysfunction is commonplace but complicated. The TMJ Association claims that around 35 million people are affected by TMJ-disorders in the United States. Most of those affected are women, at a ratio of nine to one. In fact, at Fuqua Advanced Dental, we check for signs of both TMJ-dysfunction and a similar disorder named bruxism (excessive teeth grinding or jaw clenching) at every regular dental visit.
Some common causes of TMJ-dysfunctions and issues are teeth grinding, worn down teeth and poor jaw alignment. A misaligned jaw or bite is one of the key reasons Americans experience TMJ-dysfunction. Additionally, though no strong evidence has been brought to light, it is thought that chewing gum may also increase the likelihood of TMJ. Causes of TMJ-dysfunction are not simply limited to mouth and jaw problems however. Other factors that contribute to the cause TMJ-dysfunctions include:
- Autoimmune diseases
- Injuries to the jaw area
- Dental procedures
- Stretching of the jaw as occurs with inserting a breathing tube before surgery
- Various forms of arthritis
Fortunately, once you schedule an appointment at Fuqua Advanced Dental, Dr. Fuqua will work with you to design a custom TMJ treatment plan. One of the most common treatment methods is through the use of an oral appliance, also called stabilization splint or bite guard. This appliance is made of acrylic and fits over the teeth, correcting any alignment issues and easing pain.
There are also more passive ways to help treat TMJ. These methods can be done at home and are designed to relieve pain, but are by no means a substitute to a check-up from oral health provider.
- Eating soft foods
- Applying ice or warm moist heat packs
- Avoiding extreme jaw movements (such as wide yawning, loud singing and gum chewing)
- Learning techniques for relaxing and reducing stress
- Practicing gentle jaw stretching and relaxing exercises that may help increase jaw movement. Your healthcare provider or a physical therapist can recommend exercises if appropriate for your particular condition.
Dr. Fuqua will also discuss methods for managing stress, as alleviating stress has been found to be an important factor in recovering from TMJ-dysfunctions and bruxism.
If you feel you have been suffering from any discomfort that could be related to TMJ-dysfunction, make an appointment at Fuqua Advanced Dental to find relief.