Right now, temporomandibular joint disorders (sometimes called TMJ or TMD) are hard to treat. It’s an unfortunate truth, as TMJ can cause a slew of problems including frequent headaches, ear ringing and even tingling in the fingers. Anyone who suffers from TMJ can tell you how severely impacts their life, but right now, surgical options are complicated, risky and not a surefire treatment.
However, your trusted dentists are dedicated not just to helping their patients look better, but feel better, too. If you have TMJ, you don’t have to suffer quietly.
What Is TMJ, and What Are Its Symptoms?
Your temporomandibular joint is the sliding hinge that allows your jawbone to move. Think about the range of motion in your knee; it lets you swing your lower leg forward and back, though its range of motion isn’t so great from side to side. Your jaw, on the other hand, can move back and forth, up and down, and side to side easily. The complexity of the joint is necessary for the wide range of functions of your jaw, some of which require very delicate and precise movements.
Just like your knees, you want a well-functioning jaw; one that allows you to talk, chew, yawn and do all the other things a jaw is made for.
TMJ happens when the joint doesn’t function the way it should. Because TMJ isn’t a single condition, it doesn’t have a single cause. Some patients develop it following poor dentistry, bad habits like nail biting or bruxism, oral trauma, and congenital issues.
If you have TMJ, you might have pain in the joint itself, earaches, or headaches and you might find your jaw is stiffer than normal. Left untreated, your TMJ can only get worse. If you catch it early enough, we can successfully treat TMJ, getting your diet back to normal and letting you smile, laugh and talk normally again. If treatment is delayed, it may require surgery.
How We Treat TMJ
Though we avoid surgical options for TMJ, you don’t have to live with this debilitating disorder. Treatment depends on how severe your disorders are, but the initial evaluation is the same for just about everyone.
First, Drs. Ken and Marnie Collins will use a machine to evaluate your bite. They’ll see where your jaw rests against your upper teeth and how your jaw moves when you talk and chew. Something we see often in our TMJ patients is that their jaw doesn’t rest completely – they are constantly in tension, irritating and disturbing the temporomandibular joint as well as the jaw muscles.
The next step is hooking you up to a TENS unit, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation unit. This process is painless – in fact, many of our patients enjoy this step. The TENS unit gently sends electrical impulses to your jaw, relaxing the muscles. After 30 to 45 minutes, we’ll again evaluate where your jaw rests now that your muscles are relaxed. This will informs us of your ideal jaw alignment.
Now that we know where your jaw should be, together we’ll decide how to move your bite. We’ll listen to your pain points, how TMJ affects you and your oral health goals overall. The three treatments we’ll discuss are coronoplasty, or changing the shape of your individual teeth; neuromuscular orthotics, or a “bite splint;” a full-mouth reconstruction, which uses crowns and porcelain veneers to adjust your bite. TMJ treatment couples well with a full smile makeover, as correcting TMJ can be paired with improving the appearance of your smile.