The temporomandibular joints (TMJs) are sliding hinge joints that connect either side of your jawbone to your skull. The TMJs allow you to move your mouth open and shut, and from side to side. You can feel them at work when you press your fingers on either side of your face, in front of your ears, and open your mouth.
When your TMJs are healthy, you shouldn’t notice them at all. They function well and smoothly, so you can speak, sing, yawn, and chew without a sound or sensation. But when either of your TMJs develop a problem, it may limit jaw movement and make it hard to chew or even speak well.
The first sign of a developing TMJ disorder is often a painless but abnormal popping sensation in one or more TMJ. If your jaw pops regularly, schedule a visit at Le Dentistry & Associates in Norcross, Georgia. Our providers diagnose and treat TMJ disorders, the sooner the better.
Does your jaw pop? Here’s how TMJ disorders may affect you and how they can be treated.
Early warning signs
A TMJ disorder often starts as a clicking or popping sensation when you talk, chew, or open your mouth. You can probably hear the pop or click, too. These sounds and sensation may be disconcerting, but they’re usually painless. At first. They’re also the first sign of an impending jaw problem.
Most jaw popping or clicking progresses and begins to generate some degree of jaw tenderness or facial pain. This may be accompanied by episodes of sharp, acute pain in one or both TMJs.
Complications of TMJ disorder
Up to 12 million women and men in the United States live with chronic TMJ pain and dysfunction. The symptoms tend to worsen without early detection and treatment. The main signs of TMJ disorder progression are:
- Radiating jaw, face, or neck pain
- Difficulty or pain while chewing
- Increased tooth pain or sensitivity
- Tenderness near one or both ears
- Extremely stiff or tight jaw muscles
Advanced TMJ pain and stiffness can even start to make it difficult to eat or talk. Left untreated, TMJ dysfunction may progress even to the point where you have limited jaw movement, chronic headaches, or a permanent bite misalignment.
How TMJ problems develop
Any activity or condition that strains, impairs, degrades, or damages any part of your TMJ — from the cartilage that cushions its socket to the shock-absorbing disc that facilitates fluid jawbone movement — can cause a TMJ disorder. Problems associated with TMJ dysfunction are:
- Teeth grinding or clenching (i.e., bruxism)
- A long-standing bite misalignment
- Arthritis-related joint degeneration
- Joint disc erosion or misalignment
- Impact-induced joint or disc damage
Although our team usually determines the underlying cause of TMJ dysfunction, some TMJ issues develop without an easily identifiable root cause.
Treatment options for TMJ
If your jaw pops or clicks, we perform a comprehensive oral evaluation to determine if you have a TMJ disorder. We also try to establish why it developed in the first place. This process may include assessing your jaw joints for:
- Signs of abnormal joint erosion
- Muscle tenderness and inflammation
- Strength and range of motion status
- Observable clicking and popping
We may take a dental X-ray to check for signs of arthritis. A CT scan can reveal any troublesome discs. Having an accurate diagnosis is the first step toward creating a customized treatment plan that effectively addresses your emerging TMJ disorder and halts its progression.
Most cases of TMJ dysfunction respond well to a combination of noninvasive, conservative care solutions. Over-the-counter pain relievers take the edge off persistent pain and help you sleep better at night. Ice packs or moist heat also provide effective short-term relief.
Resting your jaws
By resting your TMJs, you help prevent inflammation and pain. Switch to a soft food diet for a few weeks to help your jaw relax. Gently massage your TMJs. Stretch your jaw muscles every day to keep them more relaxed as time goes on.
Custom night guard
If bruxism (i.e., grinding your teeth) is part of your TMJ problem, we prescribe a custom oral appliance (i.e., nighttime mouthguard) to wear when you sleep. In addition to reducing stress on your TMJs, wearing a mouthguard protects your teeth from damage and helps maintain an aligned bite.
Stop the pop by contacting us at Le Dentistry & Associates for help with a TMJ disorder today. Book an appointment online or call our friendly staff.