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TMJ Pain and How to Treat It

Did you know a healthy jaw can exert up to 200 pounds of bite force? It is one of the strongest muscles, by weight, in the body. But jaw soreness can render simple tasks like chewing uncomfortable or even painful. Very often the culprit of jaw soreness is your TMJ, or temporomandibular joint.

What is TMJ Dysfunction?

The TMJ connects your jaw to your skull. It is a sliding hinge that allows your jaw to hinge open, but also slide front to back. The bones in this area are covered with cartilage and are separated by a small disk that absorbs shock, keeping the joint moving smoothly.

But if there are any issues with this joint and its various components, jaw movement can be anything but smooth. You never realize how much you use your jaw until issues arise. Problems with your jaw can result in the following TMD symptoms:

  • Tension headaches
  • Pain in the jaw
  • Stiffness in the neck or jaw
  • Discomfort while chewing
  • Clicking disc
  • Locking of the jaw

Why Do I Get TMJ Pain?

TMJ pain can result from a number of different factors. It can be caused by outside factors—like a blow to the face or other injury—or it can be caused by your own tension or hereditary factors like arthritis. Common causes include:

  • A misaligned bite
  • Habitual jaw clenching or grinding
  • The disk erodes and moves out of alignment
  • The TMJ cartilage is damaged by arthritis
  • The joint was damaged by impact

TMJ Treatment

Luckily, most TMJ pain is temporary. An ice pack or simple exercises (listed below) can often reduce symptoms. If the pain continues, it is recommended to have an orthodontic consultation because proper bite correct often can be addressed with orthodontics — in many cases, braces or Invisalign® can move your teeth to eliminate tension and allow your teeth to fit together properly. If your TMJ dysfunction is more serious, a splint can be used to realign the jaw in conjunction with orthodontics. A doctor may also prescribe medications to help alleviate some of the symptoms.

What Bite Malalignments Cause TMD?

Your TMD exam will begin with paperwork to help pinpoint the areas of discomfort and the times of the day the discomfort is more intense.  This helps to distinguish parafunctional nighttime activities like grinding and clenching from bite malalignment.

If pain is most significant when waking and dissipates as the day goes by, this often indicates grinding, clenching or a combination of the two as the culprit of the TMJ pain.  This is often resolved with a nighttime splint (also known as a night guard) which keeps pressure off of the condylar disc and protects the enamel of your teeth during grinding/clenching episodes.

The intraoral examination will also evaluate common causes of TMD: deepbite, openbite and crossbites.  When indicated, orthodontics will be recommended to correct the occlusion (bite) which is commonly causing excessive pressure on the condylar disc and when corrected, can alleviate the majority of TMD symptoms and help protect the teeth from excessive wear and tear. Sleeping in clear aligners or a nightguard after orthodontic treatment is important to maintain the bite correction and continue to protect the condylar disc from future damage.

In the most severe cases, a combination of splint therapy and orthodontic treatment may be indicated to reprogram the position of the lower jaw before correcting the occlusion.

If you are looking for help diagnosing TMJ issues, call Dr. Kendra Pratt’s office at either location, in Woodlands (281-367-0050) or Montgomery (936-596-1200). Dr. Pratt, a board-certified orthodontist, specializes in family orthodontics for people of all ages, including TMJ, braces, clear braces, Invisalign®, mouth guards, early intervention and more.

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