Something to Chew On
Tempromandibular Joint Disorders

Written by: Dr. Christine R. Wenrick

Do you suffer from jaw pain?  Headaches?  Maybe even neck pain and ringing in your ears? 


The link between these symptoms and The Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) is almost always a given.  Too many people suffer with TMJ Disorders and don’t even know it. 


The TMJ is a major joint in the body and probably the most used.  This joint allows us to nourish our bodies threw the process of chewing.  Without this joint’s proper function the ability to chew healthy food is significantly diminished.


The TMJ is located just in front of our ear canals.  It functions like a hinge connecting the upper jaw to the lower jaw.  These joints are flexible and should always move freely without pain, noises, or locking.


Unfortunately, the TMJ’s are often traumatized at an early age by macro-trauma.  Falling on our chin as a toddler can disrupt the normal growth of this joint causing dysfunction later in life.  Car accidents, sports injuries, whiplash, concussions, and neck problems can disrupt the normal function and anatomy of these joints. 


If you suffer from any of these symptoms you may have a TMJ disorder:

·         Pain or soreness in the face

·         Limitations with opening the mouth

·         A bite shift

·         Headaches, earaches, neck and shoulder pain

·         Clenching and grinding of teeth

·         Jaws that get “stuck” or “locked” open or closed

·         Clicking, popping, or grating noises when opening, closing, or eating

·         Difficulty chewing

·         Ringing in the ears


Many TMJ disorders occur at a much younger age than when these symptoms actually start to surface.  Most disruption in the jaw joint involves the disc becoming dislocation, or herniated.  The TMJ Disc is a soft, cushion permanently attached to the jaw joint bones themselves.  Any of the previously mentioned traumas can cause this disc to detach itself from the TMJ leaving potentially permanent side effects.  Symptoms related to disc detachment normally happen visually in the bite.  This visual change is only something that a trained dentist can actual see.  There are tell-tale signs in tooth on tooth contact that a trained TMJ dentist will look for and educate the patient. 


Poor sleep, sleep apnea, snoring, and tired tight facial jaw muscles are other signs of a TMJ Disorder.  The more detailed a patient is with their history of trauma and symptoms, the better a trained TMJ Dentist can diagnose and treat TMJ Disorders. 


Pain medication, steroids, and anti-inflammatory drugs should only be used on a temporary basis while diagnosing and treating this disorder.  The ultimate goal is to restore the TMJ structures to the healthiest position possible.  Treating structures appropriately from a detailed diagnostic perspective is key. Image based diagnostic criteria via MRI’s and CT Scans becomes the standard of care while making accurate diagnoses and treatment choices for the TM Joint. 


The key to treating structural TMJ problems is as always, early detection.  Normally, an acute TMJ disorder treated as early as possible can have very good treatment results for the patient.  Left untreated, most conditions will turn chronic and lead to many different locations of pain and even arthritic changes in the joint’s bone structure.  When visiting one’s dentist, if any of the above symptoms are present always ask he or she for a referral to a dentist trained in the treatment of TMJ or associated disorders.





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