The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ. It’s a long word with an equally important function. When you open and close your mouth to talk, chew, or yawn, the TMJ is hard at work as the hinge that connects your jawbone to your skull. When your TMJ is healthy, you don’t even notice it. But if you’re experiencing discomfort or pain in your jaw or face, you’ll definitely be aware of it. You might be suffering from TMJ disorder and looking for some help.
So how do you find relief? What doctor treats TMJ disorder? An orthodontist like Dr. Brandon Scheer is a specialist in dental and facial anatomy and has the expertise to identify the cause of your facial pain and successfully treat it. If you have TMJ disorder (also called TMJD), Shine Orthodontics is your TMJD treatment specialist in Colorado.
Let’s back up a bit. Before we cover treatment, let’s first cover the basics:
- What is the TMJ?
- What is TMJ disorder and what causes it?
- What are the symptoms of TMJ/TMJD?
- TMJD diagnosis
What is the TMJ?
As mentioned, the TMJ is the joint that connects your jawbone to your skull and you have one on either side of your face, in front of your ears. It acts like a hinge for raising and lowering your jaw and allows your jaw to move both side-to-side and front-to-back in a sliding motion. It contains interrelated parts like discs, condyles (the knobby part of joints), facial muscles, and cartilage that (usually!) work together without a hitch.
You could say that the TMJ is one of the more complex joints in your body! Thank your TMJ for the ability to chew and swallow, yawn, talk and sing, and even the ability to open your mouth to say, “Aaaahh…” for your doctor, dentist, and orthodontist!
What is TMJ Disorder and What Causes It?
The first signs of TMJD are often discomfort or pain in one or both of your temporomandibular joints. You might have noticed it only recently, or maybe it’s been a painful disruption in your life that seems to come and go. But have no fear, you’re not suffering alone. In fact, TMJ affects over 10 million Americans who experience it for a variety of reasons. The triggers are different from person to person, but typically, TMJD is the result of one or several of these:
- Strain or injury to your TMJ
- Malocclusion (a misaligned bite)
- Arthritis in or erosion of your TMJ
- Teeth grinding or jaw clenching (called bruxism)
- The structure of your TMJ that you’ve had since birth
- Past trauma to the joint, face, or teeth
- Having certain connective tissue disorders
Who Can Get TMJ Dysfunction?
TMJ disorder/dysfunction can happen at any age and to anyone — at Shine Orthodontics, we’ve seen kids and adults with TMJD and we’ve helped them find the relief and treatment they needed. TMJD is also twice as more likely to affect women than men; some researchers think female hormones like estrogen are tied to TMJD.
The newest research on TMJD has shown that, although TMJ pain is localized to the face, jaw, and head, it might be related to conditions in other parts of the body. In a 2020 study, TMJD was shown to co-exist as part of a set of complex diseases — like hypertension or diabetes — that involved genetic, environmental, behavioral, and gender-related factors. The study, published in the 2020 National Academy of Medicine, found 30 health issues co-existing with TMJD, and that this happened more in women than men.
What to take away from this news? When talking about your possible TMJ disorder with your orthodontist, be sure to mention if you have any other conditions. Knowing the “bigger picture” can help your orthodontist suggest specific treatments or lifestyle changes for your unique situation.
What are the symptoms of TMJD?
It’s worth mentioning again that the most common temporomandibular joint dysfunction symptom is pain when you move your jaw. Symptoms can show up in both left and right TMJs or just on one side. Other signs of TMJD include:
- Grinding, clicking, or popping sounds in the jaw when opening and closing your mouth
- Inability to open your mouth wide to speak or yawn
- A locked or stuck jaw
- Pain when chewing and biting
- Pain in the neck, shoulders, or ears
- Frequent headaches or migraines
- TMJ tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
As an orthodontic specialist with expertise in dental and facial anatomy, Dr. Scheer is a great resource and can determine if your facial pain is caused by TMJD. He will look for swelling or tenderness around the joints, and chat with you about your health history and symptoms. Our team can also take digital x-rays to pinpoint the issue. If your child is the one experiencing jaw pain or TMJ disorder, we can assess whether they could benefit from early orthodontic treatment.
Once we’ve determined what’s causing your TMJD, we can prescribe the right treatment for you.
TMJD Treatment Options
So here’s the thousand-dollar question: What are my TMJ treatment options? Oftentimes, the pain of TMJD can be alleviated through at-home treatment. As an orthodontist who treats conservatively, Dr. Scheer might first recommend home remedies that promote the relaxation and healing of your TMJ, facial muscles, and nerves. Over a prescribed amount of time, try:
- Eating soft foods
- Using ice packs on the joints to reduce swelling
- Reducing jaw movements
- Avoiding chewy and tough foods, including chewing gum
- Reducing your stress
- Trying jaw exercises that relax and stretch the jaw and facial muscles
- Deep breathing exercises
- Gentle jaw massage
- Over-the-counter Ibuprofen or muscle relaxants for TMJ pain relief
- Lifestyle changes
If conservative TMJ treatment isn’t helping, your orthodontist might suggest a more serious TMJ alternative treatment. These treatments require a more comprehensive plan with your orthodontist or doctor.
Corticosteroid medications – Prescription medication will help reduce swelling and alleviate pain.
A TMJ splint – This might sound daunting but a TMJ splint is simple and low maintenance. Like a sports mouthguard or one you’d wear at night if you have bruxism, you wear a TMJ splint over your upper and lower teeth. You can take them out when eating and cleaning your teeth. A TMJ splint holds your jaw in a stable and comfortable position and takes some pressure off your TMJ.
Dr. Sheer customizes your TMJ splint to your mouth and prescribes a wearing schedule, whether that’s 24/7, only at night, or only during the day. There are several types of TMJ splints available, and Dr. Scheer will go over the options that best suit your TMJ issues.
Mouthguards – If your TMJ is caused by teeth grinding or jaw clenching, your Thornton orthodontist might prescribe a mouthguard to wear at night. A mouthguard will prevent your teeth from getting damaged or worn down further.
Botox® – No, it’s not just for wrinkles and aging. Botox is used in many therapeutic settings. In the case of TMJD, it relaxes the tension in your facial muscles and jaw nerves so your pain is alleviated.
Counseling: If you have TMJD, talking might hurt, but it also might help. At Shine Orthodontics, we’ve had patients who suffer from TMJD because they clench their jaws or grind their teeth as a response to stress or anxiety. Seeing a therapist or counselor to address your mental health can be a big step in alleviating your TMJD pain. It could lead to lifestyle changes that improve your overall mental and physical health, too.
If your TMJD is because of a misaligned bite, orthodontic treatment like braces might help. This not only alleviates your TMJD pain but also brings your bite into more functional and healthy alignment for the rest of your life!
It’s well known that a misaligned bite can cause a range of issues, not only TMJ disorder: cavities and tooth decay, breathing and airway problems, and facial asymmetry to name a few. Dr. Scheer knows from personal experience how correcting a bad bite with orthodontic treatment can change your life for the better.
Curing TMJD for Life
Many of our TMJD patients ask us, “How do you cure TMJ permanently?” It is true that the home remedies and treatments mentioned earlier aren’t always permanent fixes. Sometimes, at-home treatment is a means to an end — meant to give your TMJ a chance to relax and heal, and give you a chance to figure out if broader, preventative steps should be made to ensure your TMJ pain doesn’t come back. Who doesn’t want a dramatic “before and after” TMJ treatment experience?
At Shine Orthodontics, we encourage our patients to try less invasive treatments for TMJD first. That said, treatments like a TMJ splint or corrective orthodontics can help you say “goodbye” to the pain of TMJD instead of “see you later.” In rare cases, your doctor might suggest surgery to replace the joint or they can perform arthrocentesis, which removes fluid and debris from your TMJ.
We’re Here to Alleviate Your TMJ Disorder
Whether you alleviate your TMJ disorder through ice packs and ibuprofen at home, through wearing a TMJ splint, or through braces, Dr. Brandon Scheer and the team at Shine Orthodontics are available with expert assessment and guidance.