November is National TMJ Awareness Month, and it’s worth taking a moment to evaluate your oral health to see if there is something that’s not quite right with your teeth and bite. It might seem like clenching or grinding your teeth occasionally is no big deal, or maybe you’ve lived with jaw popping for so long that you don’t even give it much thought anymore. Over time, though, a TMJ problem can ruin your teeth, including cosmetic dentistry and restorative dentistry work. Time to give your jaw a little love.
What Is the TMJ?
Your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a ball-and-socket joint and disc that attaches the lower jaw to the skull. In the simplest terms, the muscles and ligaments of the TMJ are what let you open and close your mouth so you can talk, bite, chew, and swallow.
What Causes TMJ Problems?
People often say they “have TMJ” when the actual diagnosis is TMD – temporomandibular disorder. Many things could cause TMD, including teeth grinding, jaw misalignment, mouth injury, arthritis, and, of course, stress.
What Are the Symptoms of TMD?
You may think your TMD has resolved itself or that you only have problems temporarily, when the disorder is always present. Some symptoms of a TMJ problem are obvious, while other signs can be sneaky and reveal themselves in seemingly odd places. Think about whether you have any of the following things going on:
- Clicking or popping jaw
- Clenching or grinding of the teeth
- Worn tooth enamel
- Inability to open the mouth wide or mouth locks shut or open
- Gum recession
- Pain, ringing, or itching of the ears
- Eye pain or sensitivity to light
- Neck, shoulder, finger, or arm pain, stiffness, or numbness
- Migraines or headaches in temples or forehead
- Sinus pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Sore throat with no infection
- A feeling that something is stuck in your throat
TMJ Therapy for TMD
Depending on the cause of your discomfort, there are many ways to correct TMJ problems and the side effects they cause:
- Nightguard: One of the most common ways to address TMJ problems is with the fitting of a customized nightguard. A full-coverage guard for your upper jaw fits tightly on your teeth to prevent them from grinding against each other at night while you sleep. It protects both the upper and lower teeth.
- NTI device: This small oral appliance is designed to be worn on the two lower or two upper front teeth. It does the same work as a nightguard, preventing the teeth from damaging each other, but it also stops the clenching behavior by preventing the molars from touching. The nerve reflex triggered by the NTI device can retrain the muscles of your mouth and, ideally, eliminate the clenching and grinding problem.
- Full-mouth reconstruction: If your teeth are worn out from TMD, you could experience tooth, mouth, and jaw pain, and be suffering from damaged teeth. Full-mouth reconstruction addresses all aspects of your smile breakdown, correcting the root of the TMJ problem with neuromuscular treatment. Once your smile is comfortable and your jaw pain and side effects are eliminated, dental restorations and cosmetic dentistry can be performed to fix things like gum recession, worn enamel, and broken teeth.
- Invisalign: If your TMJ problems are caused by misalignment, a course of Invisalign treatment can put your mouth into alignment and correct the discomfort you experience while also giving you a gorgeous straight smile. Invisalign takes patience, however, but the payoff is worth it for many patients.
Take care of your entire oral health – teeth, gums, and jaw. Contact Dr. Michael J. Wei to schedule an appointment at his Midtown Manhattan dental office on Madison Avenue.