Jaw pain can sometimes be caused by a temporomandibular joint, or TMJ disorder. This can cause jaw, facial, and even ear pain, and sometimes headaches and hearing problems.
While it is a painful condition, there are a number of methods of treatment, and there are dentists who specialize in the treatment of TMJ disorder.
Those treatment methods include the use of custom night mouth guards, orthodontic treatment, stretching and relaxation techniques, or surgical treatment. Some of these treatments may be combined for a more comprehensive approach, for example with night mouth guards plus stretching techniques.
One of the more common causes of TMJ is teeth grinding either under stress or at night. Protective night mouth guards are custom made of soft plastic. They look somewhat like an orthodontic retainer or a sports night mouth guard.
They shield the chewing surfaces of your teeth from impact making it difficult to clench the jaw. These custom night mouth guards are typically worn overnight, since tooth grinding during sleep is one of the biggest causes of TMJ pain.
Another cause of TMJ disorder is teeth that are not aligned properly. If you have had a bite problem that has not been corrected, such as a crossbite, orthodontic treatment (dental braces) may be the best solution to your TMJ pain.
The general term for a misaligned bite is “malocclusion,” and it is fairly common among people with TMJ. Proper orthodontic treatment will take stress off the jaw, the muscles, and the tendons that support them. In some cases the new Invisalign invisible braces can be used rather than traditional braces.
Other causes of TMJ disorder include: trauma from a car accident or sports injury; excessive gum chewing; excessive nail biting; degenerative joint diseases like osteoarthritis; developmental abnormality of the TM joint; or pathological lesions within the TM joint.
Stretches and exercises are commonly taught to people with TMJ disorder. Even if you are undergoing another type of therapy, you may be prescribed certain exercises and stretching techniques to help relax the jaw muscles.
Fortunately, surgery for treating TMJ disorder is a procedure of last resort. But it is certainly an option if other treatment methods have not worked. The type of surgery will depend on the cause of your TMJ disorder. If you have teeth that are missing, causing the other teeth to shift, creating bite problems, dental implants for the missing teeth may be in order.
For a severely damaged TMJ, joint repair or reconstruction is an option. With this type of procedure, the surgeon may be able to clean out bone fragments and debris, or even replace the joint with an artificial one. Surgery is always customized to the particular cause of the TMJ disorder.
If you have been suffering from jaw, ear, or facial pain and think it may be caused by TMJ disorder, your regular dentist may be able to diagnose you, or you may be referred to a dentist that specializes in treating TMJ disorder. Fortunately, non-invasive techniques like night mouth guards or exercises can successfully treat many cases of TMJ disorder.