An estimated 35 million people in the United States experience the painful effects of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder at some point during their lives. The jaw joint, also known as the temporomandibular joint, connects the jawbone to your skull and functions like a sliding hinge.
Temporomandibular joint disorders are typically characterized by pain either in the joint itself or surrounding tissues, which limit the range of motion. The condition is complex and may impact one or both jaw joints, leading to a host of unpleasant side effects from difficulty chewing to earaches and tinnitus.
Understanding risk factors of TMJ problems
The medical community has yet to pinpoint the exact causes of TMJ disorders, but have identified several risk factors that can cause muscle tightness and pain within the temporomandibular joint. While both sexes experience TMJ problems, the majority of patients who seek treatment are women of childbearing age.
Risk factors for TMJ syndrome include:
- Chronic stress
- Hormonal imbalances, particularly with estrogen
- Inflammatory arthritis
- Habitual gum chewing
- Teeth grinding
- Malpositioned teeth
- Poor posture in the upper back and neck
- Genetic predisposition to increased stress responses
What causes jaw joint problems?
The following have been linked to TMJ disorders:
- Inflammatory musculoskeletal disorders
- Trauma to the jaw area
- Autoimmune diseases
- Extended dental procedures
- Insertion of a breathing tube prior to surgery
Research has suggested that a certain gene variant intensifies sensitivity to pain in some individuals, who are statistically more inclined to suffer problems with the temporomandibular joint. There are some cases of TMJ disorder with no obvious cause, however.
Recognizing symptoms early
Everyone has varying pain thresholds, and symptoms of TMJ can manifest in different ways. People aged 20-40 are more likely to experience signs and symptoms including:
- Dull throbbing in jaw muscles
- Chronic headaches
- Pain in the neck and shoulders
- Difficulty opening your jaw wide
- Stiffness and tenderness in jaw muscles
- Clicking or popping when opening/closing the mouth
- Trouble chewing
- Uncomfortable bite
- Ringing in the ears
- Ear fullness or Eustachian tube dysfunction
- Limited movement or locking of the jaw
Diagnosis & treatment
Many people who experience mild to moderate TMJ disorder symptoms will find that they resolve on their own with home therapies such as moist heat application, eating soft foods and slow, gentle jaw exercises.
In cases that do not improve or actually deteriorate, patients are encouraged to discuss their jaw limitations and related symptoms with a primary healthcare provider and dentist, for proper diagnosis.
According to the National Institute of Health, further research is needed on the long-term safety and efficacy of most treatments for TMJ disorders. For this reason, experts caution against invasive surgeries and suggest beginning with conservative treatments that do not permanently alter the jaw’s structure or position.
Conservative dental therapy for TMJ problems
NYC cosmetic dentist Dr. David Blaustein provides TMJ disorder treatments that are non-invasive and proven to be highly effective at relieving symptoms. Depending on the patient’s condition, they may respond to Oral Appliance Therapy or bite correction with equilibration or restorations – both of which are non-surgical.
For more information about conservative, at-home treatments for TMJ problems, we invite you to call Chelsea Dental Aesthetics at 347-773-4917.
TMJ treatment resources
- TMJ Association, The Basics of the Jaw Joint http://www.tmj.org/Page/34/17
- WebMD, Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMD, TMJ) http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/temporomandibular-disorders-tmd