Diagnosis & Treatment
An experienced dentist can help identify the source of the pain with a thorough exam and appropriate x-rays. Often, it's a sinus, toothache or an early stage of periodontal disease. But for some pain, the cause is not so easily diagnosed. The pain could be related to the facial muscles, the jaw or temporomandibular joint, located in the front of the ear. Treatments for this pain may include stress reducing exercises, muscle relaxants, or wearing a mouth protector to prevent teeth grinding. They've been successful for many and your dentist can recommend which is best for you.
Several conditions may be related to TMD, but they can be quite varied, and they are often difficult to pinpoint. TM disorders can result when the jaw muscles or jaw joints are affected. The joint, ligaments, and muscles used for chewing and grinding food may all be involved. In some cases, it is not possible to clearly determine the causes. In some complex cases, where more than one doctor is involved, it may be difficult to get a consensus on treatment. Some TM problems result from arthritis, dislocation, and injury. All of these conditions can cause pain and dysfunction. Muscles that move the joints are also subject to injury and disease. Injuries to the jaw, head or neck, and diseases such as arthritis, might result in some TM problems. Other factors that relate to the way the teeth fit together—the bite—may cause some types of TMD. Stress is thought to be a factor. TMD affects women of childbearing age more than men, or older men and women. There are several ways the TMJ disorders may be treated. Your dentist will recommend what type of treatment is needed for your particular problem or recommend that you be referred to a specialist. Treatment may involve a series of steps. The step-by-step plan is in your best interest because only minor, relatively non-invasive treatment may be needed.
Diagnosis is an important step before treatment. Part of your clinical examination includes checking the joints and muscles for tenderness, clicking, popping or difficulty moving. Your complete medical history may be reviewed, so it is important to keep your dental office record up-to-date. Your dentist may take x-rays and may make a “cast” of your teeth to see how your bite fits together. Your dentist may also request specialized x-rays for the TM joints. Depending on your case, the dentist may refer you to a physician or another dentist.
Treatment for TMJ Pain
TMJ treatment, referred to by some dentists as TMJ therapy, includes many options. The first step is to relieve the pain with the application of mouth guards, also known as dental splints. The next step in TMJ treatment is to apply bite therapy principles and tools to analyze the cause of the misalignment or stress that is causing the problem. If necessary, a routine of jaw exercises will be created to eliminate the clenching or grinding that is contributing to the stress on the lower jaw.
1. TMJ Mouth Guards for Pain Relief
TMJ mouth guards are soft plastic protectors that slip over the upper and lower teeth to prevent grinding of the teeth. Guards make it more difficult to clench the jaws, an important first step in TMJ pain relief. Your dentist will take a mold of your upper and lower teeth to custom-fit your TMJ mouth guards for maximum comfort and efficiency.
2. Jaw Exercises for TMJ
TMJ exercises are designed to relax the jaw and eliminate clenching, and also to help in the correction of alignment problems. After careful analysis, your dentist may provide you with an appropriate series of very simple exercises to be performed in front of a mirror. The use of a mirror in TMJ exercises helps you see the misalignment that is one of the factors in TMJ syndrome. Gradually, the exercises will teach you control of the jaw muscles and eliminate clenching.
3. TMJ Bite Therapy
A process known as TMJ therapy, or bite therapy, is used by dentists to help find the causes of TMJ syndrome and provide long-term pain relief. TMJ bite treatment begins with a careful, detailed analysis of your mouth and jaw to find the causes of your disorder. For some, the issue may be jaw clenching; this can usually be attributed to stress or simply a bad habit. For others, the teeth may not come together evenly, a condition known as malocclusion. This can cause uneven use of the jaw and result in muscle pain. Dentists have several tools at their disposal to measure bite pressure throughout the mouth and formulate a plan for dental work that will correct malocclusion and provide TMJ pain relief.