It’s not just the middle of fall or the start to the holiday season, it’s also TMJ Awareness Month! As your dentists and TMJ experts, at Collins Dentistry & Aesthetics, we feel it’s our duty to educate our patients about Temporomandibular Joint Disorder. This includes its symptoms, causes, treatment options, and what happens if you ignore it. If you don’t know much about TMJ, keep reading so you can learn.

What is TMJ Disorder?

Your jaw works like a door. It contains a hinge that allows it to open and close. The temporomandibular joint works like a door hinge and when you have a TMJ disorder, the hinge isn’t working properly. This is usually because there is an imbalance, strain, or injury that’s causing the dysfunction. The dysfunction can result in pain and discomfort that can interrupt daily life. Unfortunately, ignoring TMJ will only make it worse.

Eventually, the door (your jaw) will get stuck open or closed. TMJ treatment is your only solution to relieving pain and allowing your jaw to function correctly again. 

woman massaging her jaw line due to pain

What Causes It?

The temporomandibular joint works similarly to a hinge, but it also has sliding motions. The areas of the jawbones that interact with the temporomandibular joint are covered with cartilage and separated with a small disk that absorbs shock and allows for a smooth movement. With a TMJ disorder, the disk is either eroded or out of position, arthritis has damaged the joint’s cartilage, or a physical injury damaged the joint.

TMJ is often caused by:

  • Jaw misalignment
  • Grinding and clenching (bruxism)
  • Physical injury
  • Stress
  • Arthritis
  • Poor posture

What are the Symptoms of It?

Recognizing the symptoms of TMJ disorders is the best way to ensure you get treatment as soon as possible to bring you relief. These are the most common symptoms to watch out for:

  • Jaw, face, back, or neck pain
  • Ear pain or clogged feeling
  • Ringing ears (tinnitus)
  • Frequent headaches or migraines
  • Lockjaw (jaw stuck open or closed)
  • Bite that feels off
  • Numbness or tingling in fingers
  • Excessive tooth wear
  • Clicking or popping jaw
  • Clenching and grinding teeth (bruxism)

What Should I Do If I Think I Have It?

If you experience any of the symptoms of TMJ, we strongly urge you to visit a dentist for a thorough evaluation and to receive a treatment plan. Receiving a proper diagnosis is essential for a treatment plan that works.

To diagnose TMJ, you will need to schedule a consultation at Collins Dentistry & Aesthetics in Spokane. During your appointment, our neuromuscular dentists will use our advanced technology to diagnose your condition. We have a K7 machine that evaluates your bite, the motion of your jaw, tension in jaw muscles, and the sound of your jaw in motion. This machine will tell us if your jaw puts too much stress on your joints, teeth, or muscles and exactly where the excessive pressure takes place.

Our dentists will also collect your detailed medical history and feel your jaw muscles and joint to identify areas of tension or pain. With all this information, we can determine if you have TMJ and what you need for a successful treatment. 

How Is TMJ Treated?

Not every patient with TMJ needs the same treatment. It depends on what’s causing your condition. If you have bite problems, you will need orthodontic treatment while someone who has worn teeth might require restorative dentistry. Some of the common treatments we use include:

  • Periodic TENS massage
  • Bite splint
  • Full Mouth Reconstruction
  • Orthodontics
  • Coronoplasty

Most TMJ cases are due to muscle tension. We can help relieve the tension using intermittent massages with our TENS machine. Visit our dental office to find out which treatments will work best for you. 

What Happens If I Don’t Get TMJ Treatment?

Before you write off visiting us for a consultation, it’s important to understand what will happen if you ignore treatment. Firstly, your pain won’t go away. It might actually get worse. You will experience more headaches and migraines, and more jaw, neck, and face pain. You might start out experiencing just one symptom but this can turn into multiple symptoms.

Due to the constant pain, people suffering can often fall prey to drug abuse or alcoholism to find relief. It can also contribute to depression, sleep disturbances, and overall have a negative impact on your life.

Untreated TMJ can also affect your dental health. If you’re constantly clenching and grinding your teeth, it can wear down the teeth or the enamel, and even fracture and crack teeth.

Lastly, untreated TMJ can lead to severe jaw problems. The jaw might become permanently stuck open or closed, or become dislocated.

The longer you put off treatment, the more likely you will need surgery to address the problem. Not to mention, you will have to pay for more restorative dentistry work to improve the health of your teeth.

If there’s anything you should take away from this blog for TMJ Awareness Month is that you should visit a dentist as soon as you notice symptoms. If you think you might have TMJ in Spokane, please contact our dental office at (509) 532-1111 to book an appointment.