TMJ or temporomandibular joint is the joint that connects your lower jaw, called your mandible, to your skull. The joints work in harmony with the muscles and ligaments of your head and neck. Together they allow you to move your jaw up and down freely and from side to side so you can talk, chew, and yawn.

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What are the causes of TMJ disorder?

There are a number of causes of TMJ disorder, which can include:

  • Injury
  • Physical stress in the jaw or facial muscles
  • Unbalanced bite (teeth that are crooked, crowded, or misaligned)
  • Teeth grinding that applies excessive pressure to the TMJ
  • Arthritis or fibromyalgia
  • Injury to the jaw

All of these causes can create pressure on or damage the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), the disk that is located in front of the ear where the skull and lower jaw connect.

What are the symptoms of TMJ disorder (TMD)?

  • Jaw pain
  • Difficulty or pain when chewing or opening and closing the mouth
  • Pain in your face, ears, neck, and shoulders
  • Clicking or popping sounds when you open your mouth or chew
  • Recurring headaches
  • Uneasiness when moving the jaw
  • Limited movement of the lower jaw
  • Swelling of the tissues around the TMJ
  • Sudden spasms in the jaws.

How is TMJ disorder diagnosed?

To diagnose TMJ disorder, your dentist will thoroughly examine your teeth, jaw, and facial muscles. He or she may take X-rays to view the bones in your jaw and check for signs of teeth grinding. In some cases, your dentist may recommend a sleep study, which can help identify whether you are grinding your teeth in your sleep.

How is TMD treated?

There are several different treatment methods available for TMJ, so it is important that patients ask their dentist which option is best for their unique situation. The treatments include the following:

Sleep apnea treatment: Patients should discuss their sleep habits with their dentist, as sleep apnea can exacerbate the symptoms of TMD. The dentist may recommend an oral appliance, such as a mouthguard, or in more extreme cases, surgery.

Bite splints: An occlusal splint, or bite splint, can help correct the effects of TMD by stabilizing the lower jaw. A bite splint is a hard acrylic appliance that is worn over the teeth. It corrects problems with TMJ by realigning and stabilizing the jaw, preventing teeth from grinding, and reducing stress on the joint.

Mouthguards: A mouthguard, or occlusal guard, is a custom-fitted appliance that is worn while the patient is sleeping. A mouthguard will prevent the patient’s upper and lower teeth from touching, which prevents the grinding and clenching that leads to the development of TMD.

Medication: Anti-anxiety and anti-inflammatory medications may also be prescribed to treat TMD. Anti-inflammatory medications can help reduce the pain associated with TMD and make it easier for patients to perform day-to-day activities. These medications can help reduce the pain associated with TMD without causing additional side effects.

Request an appointment with Dr. An in San Francisco, CA, for your treatment today!