Everything You Should Know About Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome

Have you been experiencing an unusual amount of pain, tingling, clicking, or a combination of all of the above every time you move your jaw? It could be a symptom of Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Syndrome. While there’s still a lot of work to be done when it comes to determining the exact underlying causes of this extremely uncomfortable disorder, science has certainly come a long way in identifying a few possible temporary and permanent relief methods. Certain dental clinics in Toronto even offer extensive in-office TMJ treatment options as well as at-home relief recommendations depending on the severity of the situation.

Unstoppable pain. Beautiful brunette woman grimacing and touching her jowl while having toothache.

What is Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Syndrome?

Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome is a disorder that occurs on either side of the jaw. The jaw is connected to the skull by the temporomandibular joint and it’s responsible for performing basic functions of the jaw such as yawning, chewing, and speaking. When the temporomandibular joint is damaged or misaligned for any given reason, this can result in mild to severe symptoms that can cause great discomfort and pain when performing basic functions. This condition goes by many alternative names including Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) disorder, TMJ syndrome, Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD), and TMJ Dysfunction. Women are usually at a much greater risk than men of developing this disorder.

What Causes TMJ?

While the following isn’t necessarily a comprehensive list of all of the causes of temporomandibular joint disorder, it does give a strong insight into how the condition can develop over time or instantaneously to varying degrees.

Teeth Misalignment or Jaw Trauma

If you have any problems with your teeth or have suffered a jaw injury such as a harsh blow to the face or mild or severe whiplash, then this could result in TMJ disorder. The misalignment of the teeth in the form of either an underbite or overbite can eventually cause the jaw to become deformed as well, which will strengthen your chances of developing temporomandibular joint syndrome.

Teeth Grinding

Many people tend to grind their teeth in their sleep without even realizing it until their dentist informs them that they’ve been doing it. Teeth grinding is usually a physical symptom of emotional distress, anxiety, or depression. In some cases, it’s an involuntary act of coping with extremely stressful situations and it can cause the jaw to become misaligned as well.

Poor Posture

All parts of your body are interconnected and work in tandem with one another. If you have extremely poor posture and your back and neck are constantly hunched over, then this will increase your chances of developing temporomandibular joint disorder.

Stress and Anxiety

One of the most prevalent physical signs of emotional stress and anxiety is the clenching of the jaw. This is a major risk factor for temporomandibular joint syndrome because it can cause the jaw to shift out of its natural position and lock up. If the jaw is clenched hard enough, then the mandible bone can grind against the disc that lies between it and the temporal bone. This creates a great amount of friction in the joints, which can damage the disc, leading to pain, noise, or limitation in jaw movement.

Orthodontic Braces

By design, braces are meant to reposition your teeth into a state that was not usual to them. Each individual person’s teeth are unique in their own right; some people are genetically predisposed to have straighter teeth than others. The gradual structural shifting of teeth that’s achieved by braces can put a great deal of pressure on the mandible (jaw) bone which can in turn cause pain in the affected area.

Excessive Gum Chewing

The whole point of chewing substances is to break them down quickly in preparation for swallowing. The harder your teeth and joints within your mouth have to work to break down a substance, the more pressure you’re placing on the joints within your mouth and if you’re already at risk for rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, then this can substantially increase your chances of also developing TMD.

Muskuloskeletal Disorders

Muskuloskeletal disorders include many work-related injuries that can occur if your job is labour-intensive or if you happen to work in an office and spend the majority of your time typing on a computer. These types of injuries include: carpal tunnel syndrome, thoracic outlet syndrome, tendonitis, tension neck syndrome, bursitis, and tenosynovitis. Tension neck syndrome is most likely to lead to TMD because the neck is directly connected to the head and all of the joints inside the mouth.

What are the Symptoms of TMJ Disorder?

TMJ disorder can be characterized by either all or a combination of the following symptoms:

  • Mild or severe pain in the jaw joints
  • Pain in the different parts of the face
  • Mild or severe earaches
  • Unusual headaches
  • Mild or severe toothaches
  • Tingling sensations in your extremities
  • Developing musculoskeletal disorders

How is TMJ Diagnosed and Treated?

In order to effectively treat TMJ, your dentist first has to properly diagnose the cause of it and this can be very difficult to do given the fact that all of the abovementioned symptoms are also associated with a wide variety of other illnesses and ailments. Not only will your dentist have to perform a series of tests and analyses to rule out any other potential issues and causes, but they will also refer you to a qualified TMJ dental specialist or an otolaryngologist (throat, nose, and ear doctor) to examine you as well. Your dentist should check for the following things when trying to diagnose the problem:

  • Restricted or difficult jaw movements
  • Lockjaw
  • Clicking, popping, or grating noises during jaw movement
  • Restricted bite and other facial functions

There are several treatment options for TMJ, many of which can be implemented at home. For more severe cases that don’t benefit from at-home treatments, surgery is usually used as a last resort. Here are some of the TMJ treatment options that Toronto temporomandibular joint disorder specialists are recommending:

  • Eating soft foods and cutting them down into small portions for easier consumption.
  • Applying damp cold packs or heating pads to the side of your face and do various facial and jaw stretches.
  • Try a few different pain relief medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) including ibuprofen or aspirin. If you suffer from depression or anxiety, you can also try muscle relaxants to relax your face and jaw muscles and prevent clenching. Low doses of antidepressants can also help to alleviate your stress and in turn, muscle tension in the face and other parts of your body.
  • Refrain from doing extreme or harsh jaw movements. This includes chewing hard foods, chewing gum, yawning, screaming, clenching your jaw, and grinding your teeth.
  • Getting necessary corrective dental procedures done, including replacing damaged and missing teeth; having crowns installed; and correcting underbites and overbites.
  • Eliminate bad habits such as resting your chin on your hand as this can cause the jaw bone to shift slightly upward and the teeth will grind against one another.
  • Your dentist might recommend wearing a splint or night guard if necessary.
  • Practice jaw relaxation techniques.
  • Always try to keep your teeth slightly apart to reduce the amount of pressure placed on your jaw and grinding.
  • You can also try low-level laser therapy as long as your dentist thinks this is an appropriate option for you.
  • There are other treatments a specialist may be able to offer

Find a TMJ Dental Office Near You

Princeview Dental Group can certainly help you diagnose a TMJ problem and can offer some treatment or refer you to those who specialize in more involved treatments. With a convenient location right in the heart of the Kingsway neighbourhood, we’ve been serving patients from all over Toronto and the GTA for more than 30 years. If you have any questions or concerns about your oral health, we’re more than ready to help! Contact us to book an appointment or a consultation.

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