What Is TMJ?

Experiencing pain or clicking when you open and close your mouth? You may need TMJ treatment. But what is TMJ? And what causes it? Our dentists in Omaha, NE are here to answer your TMJ-related questions. 

Learn more about TMJ disorder and how it’s treated here. 

What Is TMJ? 

TMJ is an acronym for temporomandibular joint. The temporomandibular joint is located on both sides of your face, and in front of your ears. When in use, the TMJ acts in a sliding motion, which allows you to open and close your mouth. 

Any bones that interact throughout this process are protected by cartilage, however, when the muscles or ligaments of the temporomandibular joint become irritated or inflamed, the result is often TMD. 

What is TMD? 

Temporomandibular disorder, or TMD, is an acute or chronic condition caused by trauma or arthritis. While used interchangeably, TMD is the term used to refer to disorders that can affect the TMJ. 

Damage to the TMJ can occur due to injury, overuse, or bruxism (such as excessive gum chewing or grinding of the teeth), inflammation, or even deterioration caused by arthritis. Patients with TMD usually experience pain in their jaw and face, locking and clicking of the jaw when moving it, tenderness, difficulty chewing, and muscle spasms. 

What Causes TMJ Disorder? 

The cause of TMJ disorder isn’t apparent, however, symptoms are typically the result of issues related to the jaw muscles or the temporomandibular joint. Some factors, including arthritis, grinding and clenching of the teeth, and facial injury, may increase your risk of developing TMD. 

Other cause factors also include: 

  • Misaligned bite 

  • Stress

  • Severe facial trauma 

  • Tooth loss 

How Long Does TMJ Disorder Last?

Depending on the cause of the discomfort, acute TMD symptoms can last from a few days to a few weeks. A chronic condition, however, can produce dull, aching pain for months or years.

Types of TMJ Disorder

There are three types of TMJ disorders: muscle disorders, degenerative joint disorders, and internal derangement disorders. And yes, you can experience one or more of these disorders at the same time. 

  • Muscle disorders - Muscle disorders are the most common type of TMD. In most cases, muscle disorders are caused by repeated grinding or clenching. With a muscle disorder, pain and discomfort extend from the muscles around the jaw. 

  • Degenerative joint disorders - Degenerative joint disorders are caused by aging or overuse of the jaw. For most, degenerative joint disorder is the result of rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or a perforated TMJ disc. Other causes include poorly aligned or dislocated bites. 

  • Internal derangement disorders - Internal derangement (a structural deformity of the jaw) is caused by displaced TMJ discs, severe facial trauma, or jaw dislocation. In some cases, factors also include grinding and clenching and/or overuse of the jaw. 

What Does TMD Feel Like? 

TMD causes severe jaw pain and discomfort, but you may also experience tightness or locking of the jaw, which often results in popping or clicking. When left untreated, symptoms of TMJ also include: 

  • Severe headaches 

  • Discomfort in the neck, face, and shoulders 

  • Swelling on both sides of the face 

  • Chronic jaw pain

  • Trouble chewing or opening and closing the mouth

The severity of TMD can range from discomfort to debilitating pain. These symptoms may also apply to other conditions, which is why it’s important to see a doctor or dental professional for TMJ treatment or therapy. 

How To Treat TMJ Disorder

For some minor TMD cases, discomfort will go away on its own. However, in most cases, patients should consider an evaluation to avoid future issues. 

For most, TMJ disorder is treated with at-home practices, including: 

  • Anti-inflammatory medicine - non-steroidal medications, such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen can relieve minor pain and inflammation. 

  • Stress reduction - if you grind or clench your teeth, reduce stress. A customized oral appliance may also be recommended by a dentist to prevent pressure and abrasion. 

  • Resting or change of habits - if you chew gum or over-exert your jaw, let it rest for a day or two. Avoid overusing your jaw when you can. 

  • Cold and warm pressure - both warm and cold packs can help promote healing and lessen inflammation. 

As stated, the pain from TMD is temporary in most cases. Patients typically find relief with non-surgical treatments (physical therapy, pain injections, etc.) and personal care. For chronic cases of TMD, surgery may also be necessary. 

Why Should I Treat My TMD? 

Leaving TMD undiagnosed or untreated can lead to serious health conditions, including crippling pain in the jaw and neck. Treating TMD will not only eliminate pain, but it will also improve your quality of life. 

TMJ Treatment in Omaha, NE

For more information on TMJ treatment in Omaha, contact Eagle Run West Dental Group. We’ll answer your questions, assess your condition, and work with you to determine a treatment plan.

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