Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ or sometimes TMD) are notoriously hard to diagnose and treat. With many different symptoms, such as headaches, jaw pain, jaw sounds, ringing in the ears, dizziness or vertigo, neck pain, and more it can be hard to pin down. And once a diagnosis has been made, there are several treatment options that may give partial or short-term relief. But working with a TMJ dentist can allow for scientific diagnosis, proper treatment, and long-term relief.
One of the problems with diagnosing TMJ is that it has many potential symptoms. People often experience different combinations of symptoms. Some of the more common symptoms are:
- Jaw sounds (popping, clicking, or grinding)
- Jaw pain
- Headaches, including migraines
- Facial pain
- Tooth wear
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Vertigo or dizziness
- Neck pain
- Back pain
- Tingling and numbness in the fingers
If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms and haven’t found relief with other treatments, you may have TMJ.
If you suspect you might have TMJ, we will take care to properly diagnose your condition. Accurate diagnosis is vital to successful treatment. Research suggests that there are multiple forms of TMJ, so it’s vital that we identify the form you have to determine the proper treatment.
We begin by taking a thorough medical history. Then we will perform a comprehensive exam, which will involve touching your face and jaw to identify the position and state of the jaw joint and muscles.
We will also use some of our technology to ensure precise, repeatable measurement of your condition. The K-7 system lets us measure different aspects of your jaw function. It includes three different tools. Electrosonography measures and records the sound of your jaw joint to help us identify exactly what’s happening in the joint. Electromyography tells us about the state of tension or relaxation of your jaw muscles. Digital jaw tracking helps us identify any irregularities in jaw motion that may be related to your TMJ.
After looking at the K-7 data, we may also utilize imaging techniques to look at the state of your jaw. Imaging techniques used may include panoramic x-rays, ultrasound, CT scans, and MRI.
Looking at all this data, we will recommend a treatment plan.
The proper TMJ treatment depends on the exact nature of your condition. The sooner you get treatment, the more likely you will benefit from noninvasive treatments, our preferred approach.
Some TMJ will respond to home care. If you just started noticing TMJ symptoms, you can try home care. Rest your jaw. This means doing less talking, switching to a soft food diet, and avoiding behaviors that work your jaw such as chewing gum, biting pens, or clenching your jaw. Sometimes combating stress will help resolve TMJ.
You can take over-the counter pain relievers, but make sure you follow labeling directions unless otherwise directed by your doctor. You can also apply heat to sore muscles and ice to sore joints to help combat early forms of the condition.
If home care doesn’t show results in about a week, or if home care causes the condition to worsen, seek professional care.
We will often use an oral appliance, sometimes called a bite splint, to help hold your jaw in the proper position for muscle comfort and minimal nerve disturbance. This noninvasive, reversible treatment may need to be worn all day at first. Eventually, you may be able to cut down to wearing it only at night.
Once we’ve established the proper jaw position with your bite splint, we can talk about adjusting your bite so that you get the benefits without having to wear the bite splint. Using dental restorations, we can reshape your teeth. This is optional, but many people find it a better alternative to wearing the bite splint.
Sometimes, your TMJ may be so advanced that surgery is recommended. This is typically a treatment of last resort.
We may also recommend complementary care using other methods and may refer you to other specialists to help with your care.