FAQ’s About TMJ
What is TMJ or TMD?
The acronym TMJ stands for your temporomandibular, or jaw, joint, although it has become almost a household word for a variety of painful or dysfunction conditions of the head and neck. Most dentists and doctors use the term TMD, temporomandibular disorder, to more accurately describe a variety of painful and dysfunctional conditions that can affect your jaw muscles, joints, and facial nerves.
What are some of the signs and symptoms of TMD?
- Sensitive and sore teeth
- Facial pain
- Shoulder and neck pain
- Ringing in the ears
- Jaw pain
- Ear congestion
- Clicking or popping in the joints
- Worn down teeth
- Teeth clenching or grinding
- Limited opening of the mouth
- Cervical or neck problems
- Loose teeth
- Tingling in the fingertips
- Forward head posturing
What causes TMD?
Medical-Dental researchers and clinicians all agree that there are multiple causes for TMJ disorders.
Some known causes are:
- Malocclusion (a bad bite), bruxism (grinding teeth)
- Para-functional habits (chewing gum, fingernail bite, pencil bite, habitual clenching, habitual jaw support on one side, chewing on one side for a prolonged period of time etc.)
- Post major surgery
- Scar tissue
- Automobile accidents
- Trauma or injures to the jaw
- An underdeveloped dental arch
- A structural body imbalance (i.e.: one leg shorter than the other)
- Poor alignment of the spine
- Chronic, stress related teeth clenching or grinding
- Degenerative arthritis
- Emotional or psychological related stress
- Internal organ dysfunction
- A nutritional imbalance
- Toxic deposits
- A viral or bacterial infection
- Poor posture
- … and more unidentified factors.
In other words, anything can cause a TMJ disorder.
Interestingly, your TMJ is an inert object. It is not capable of initiating any movement on its own. It needs the muscles attached to it to contract and pull it before it can move. Muscles don’t move on their own, nerves control them by sending signals that tell the muscles to contract, so, if TMD symptoms begin to develop, it must be because the muscles have been pushed beyond their capacity by the nerves that control them.
That means that, with the exception of cases where the jaw joint has been injured due to a severe blow or an accident, TMJ must be caused by a neurological (nerve) disturbance that results in spasmodic muscles, creating a muscular imbalance with consequential joint distortion.
What is Dental Distress Syndrome?
Your teeth are rooted into your jaw bone and your TMJ sits at the end of it. The ligaments, tendons and muscles of your TMJ which hold your jaw to your skull are small and very delicately balanced. When the ligaments, tendons and muscles of your TMJ are under chronic stress, they go into spasm (cramp) to protect themselves. This continuous spasm can become part of a cycle – muscle tenderness, pain, and more spasm – that results in tissue damage. Any dental distress, which disturbs the harmony of this complex “neuro-musculo-skeletal system” (nerves, muscles, bones and joints working together in harmony), can result in TMJ disorder.
The number one cause of dental distress syndrome is malocclusion (Bad Bite). The position of your TMJ is established by the relationship between your upper and lower dental arch. This relationship is ruled by how your teeth bite together. If you have a healthy, well-functioning, balanced bite, you may not notice any discomfort, dysfunction or pain when you move your jaw. However, if you have a bad bite, it can cause dental distress and force your TMJ to move to an unhealthy, unbalanced position.
Every time you chew, swallow, move your head, walk, work, drive, exercise, play, or even when you simply breathe or fall asleep, your upper and lower teeth constantly mesh, clenching either lightly or hard. If your bite is bad, it not only distresses to the trigeminal nervous system (the nerve system responsible for the sensation in your face and the movement of your jaw), it also forces your TMJ to move away from its healthy, balanced position, causing painful TMJ symptoms.
How is TMD Diagnosed?
Dr. Nehawandian gathers information on the history of your health and does a examination of your teeth, head and neck. When required, she will conduct a series of tests using non-invasive electronic instruments such as the K-7 Evaluation System. Data from these tests will tell her whether your bite is a major contributing factor to your problem. If your habitual bite is a probable cause of your TMJ condition or pain, Dr. Nancy Nehawandian will identify a correct, healthy bite while your muscles are in a relaxed state. This new jaw position and the corresponding healthy bite, called Neuromuscular occlusion, will harmonize your TMJ, your muscles, and your teeth.
What is Neuromuscular Dentistry?
Neuromuscular Dentistry is the science of dentistry that represents the scientific principles of patho-physiology (the functional changes that occur with a syndrome, dysfunction or disease), anatomy, form and function.
Neuromuscular Dentistry evaluates the complex relationship between the teeth, temporomandibular joints, and masticatory (chewing) muscles to achieve a bite that creates the optimal relationship between the mandible and the skull — Neuromuscular Occlusion. The goal of Neuromuscular Dentistry is to relax the jaw muscles and establish a healthy, functioning rest position for it by using a variety of treatments.
What can I do to treat TMD?
The immediate concern is to provide relief of your painful symptoms. The best way to do this is by using a technology called ULF-TENS. The second step is to stabilize your bite. An orthotic is a custom made appliance made of plastic that your wear over your teeth to maintain a healthy, functioning bite position.
You’ll typically wear this plastic appliance for a prescribed period of time to see if this new jaw position solves or reduces your TMJ pain and symptoms. Depending on the result, Dr. Nancy Nehawandian will discuss long term treatment options with you. for more information, or to see what we can do for your TMJ, call our office at 408-354-5600 or contact us online.