The temporomandibular joints (TMJ) are the joints at the sides of your jaw that work with muscles to open your mouth and close it as you talk and eat. The whole TMJ area includes bones, discs, ligaments and muscles that work together. You can have TMJ disorders that get in the way of this intertwined system, causing problems with everyday actions and discomfort.
Many issues can lead to TMJ disorders, including arthritis in the area, misalignment of your teeth and jaw, or dislocation. It’s also possible that you injured the area or that the problem started from grinding your teeth or experiencing stress. Symptoms include popping or clicking sounds in the jaw, teeth grinding, pain in the jaw, chronic headaches and tension in the neck, shoulders, and back.
Before treating TMJ, the dentist needs to check to see if you have a disorder. The dentist gives you an examination in which he looks for problems in the area such as stiffness, a popping or clicking sound, or tenderness. He may order X-rays or other imaging tests to check the alignment of the jaw.
TMJ treatment varies depending on your case. To begin with, the dentist tries lifestyle changes and less-involved treatments before moving forward with extensive treatment options. Your dentist will probably have you eat soft foods, use heat packs on the joint, and try to relax your face. She may teach you jaw muscle-strengthening activities. She also might prescribe medications, such as muscle relaxants, or recommend a mouth guard. Dental guards are often referred to as appliances and are prescribed to help patients reduce the damage caused by the nighttime grinding often associated with TMJ. The appliance should help to reduce muscle spasm, clenching habits, jaw pain, teeth wear and cracked teeth. It’s also possible that the dentist will want to use techniques or dental appliances to fix a misaligned bite.