It can be a difficult condition to diagnose and treat because of the number of disparate symptoms it can cause. Common symptoms include:
As well as many other symptoms. The particular mix of symptoms experienced by any TMJ sufferer often indicates the specific type or types, but other times it’s hard to figure out how the symptoms are connected. You may not even be aware of how many symptoms are caused by your TMJ until they resolve with treatment.
Sometimes, you may experience secondary symptoms, too: conditions indirectly related to TMJ. Many people develop depression, and many also have sleep apnea. Indirect symptoms may resolve when it is treated or they may require separate treatment.
What Is TMJ?
TMJ is a very complicated condition that we have had a lot of difficulty pinning down, and we have determined that it’s really a number of related conditions that have overlapping causes and create similar symptoms. As a shorthand, we often describe it as an imbalance in the jaw system, but there are many potential forms that imbalance could take.
One of the earliest and most common types of TMJ is a simple muscle imbalance. When your muscles are trying to find a restful position but they can’t either because of the configuration of your teeth, the state of the jaw, or even conflicts with any of the other muscles that have to work with each other to control the jaw.
Another type occurs when the cushioning discs inside the temporomandibular joints become displaced. When this occurs, the jaw may not open and close smoothly—there may be irregular motions and you may experience popping and clicking. The jaw may even stick so that you can’t open or close it, or may have very limited movement.
Finally, TMJ can be related to pinched or pressured nerves in the jaw or face. There are many nerves that go through or past the jaw. They often intertwine with jaw muscles and thread into the bones of the temporomandibular joint. Pressure on these nerves can cause many types of pain and even related symptoms like tingling or numbness.
It would be wrong to limit our understanding of TMJ to just one type or cause—it’s impossible to understand all symptoms without allowing for these types as well as subtle gradations and combinations.
If you spend much time researching this condition, you’ll realize that temporomandibular joint disorder goes by many names. These names have been acquired over the decades as our understanding of the condition has grown and changed. “TMJ” is the most commonly used name, but it’s gone by many names in the past:
- Costen’s Syndrome
- Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD or sometimes TMJD)
- Temporomandibular joint dysfunction syndrome
- Temporomandibular syndrome (TMS)
- Myofacial pain disorder (MPD)
- Mandibular pain dysfunction syndrome (MPDS)
- Temporomandibular joint pain dysfunction syndrome
- Mandibular whiplash
- Craniomandibular disorder (CMD)
- Temporomandibular pain and dysfunction (TMPDS)
When you consider the number and diversity of symptoms caused by the condition, the disparity in naming and emphasis makes perfect sense.
Technically, the Craniomandibular Institute and the American Academy of Orofacial Pain came together in the early 1990s to decide that the official name was “temporomandibular disorder,” abbreviated “TMD,” but most people haven’t gotten the memo or don’t recognize the authority of these boards to make such a declaration.
Neuromuscular Dentists Treat TMJ
Neuromuscular dentists are ideally trained to treat TMJ. Neuromuscular dentistry focuses on the complex relationship among all the components of the jaw system. This includes soft tissues like nerves, muscles, tendons, fascia, etc. and hard tissues like bones, teeth, and cartilage. Over decades of research and practice, neuromuscular dentists have developed scientific, reliable, and predictable methods to diagnose and treat TMJ.
Unlike other professions that see it as something they also treat, neuromuscular dentists focus primarily on the condition. They are dedicated professionals with specialized training to help them give you long-term relief from your TMJ symptoms.
Just as naming this complex condition has been a challenge, so, too, has diagnosis. Few practices do the work necessary to distinguish TMJ from other conditions that may present with similar symptoms, such as toothaches, sinus problems, blocked salivary glands, arthritis, and gum disease. At the River Edge Dental Center for TMJ, Sleep Apnea, & Reconstructive Dentistry, we perform a thorough evaluation of your jaw system to identify TMJ. This includes:
- Detailed medical history
- Casts of your teeth
- CT scans of the bone structure of your jaw joint
- Measurements of muscle tension
- Computerized jaw tracking
- T-Scan computerized measurement of bite forces
- Measurements of the sound of your joint
- Posture Pro posture analysis
All of these tests are noninvasive and pain-free, but together they give us all the information we need to diagnose your TMJ and make recommendations for treatment.
The first step in TMJ treatment is usually TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation), something like an electrical massage. TENS is a great first step in TMJ treatment because it relaxes your muscles and stimulates the release of endorphins, your body’s natural pain relievers. It also serves to wipe the slate clean of all your body’s acquired habits. These habits can be caused by malocclusion, stress, jaw trauma, and many other factors, but they keep your jaw from finding its natural rest position.
Once we’ve relaxed your muscles, we can do our diagnosis and recommend the proper treatment for you. In some cases, you may just need regular TENS to keep your muscles from falling into bad habits again. Other times, we may recommend a bite splint. This helps hold your jaw in a restful position to prevent the return of TMJ symptoms. If your bite splint works well, but you don’t like the appliance, we can sometimes build up your teeth to hold your jaw in that position without the appliance.
Rarely, diagnosis may reveal jaw joint problems beyond our ability to treat, and we may recommend surgery. Getting treatment sooner can help avoid this necessity.
If you would like to learn whether your symptoms are TMJ and learn more about treatment options, please call (201) 343-4044 or email a TMJ dentist at River Edge Dental, New Jersey’s center for TMJ, sleep apnea, & reconstructive dentistry.