Although TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint disorder, it’s not just about your joint. Instead, it’s related to many different components in your mouth/jaw system. To find an appropriate treatment for your TMJ, it’s important to understand the relationship between these factors.
Factor 1: Your Teeth
TMJ often begins with tooth problems. If your teeth aren’t fitting together properly, it can make it hard for your jaw to find a good resting position. It also puts additional stress on your muscles and jaw joint every time you put your teeth together.
You might think your teeth come together just for chewing, but in truth they come together at many points during the day. Every time you swallow, for example, your teeth come together to brace your neck muscles. Your teeth come together when you exert muscles in your head and neck. There is even evidence suggesting that night bruxism–teeth grinding–is caused by trying to help the muscles in your airway stay open to prevent sleep apnea.
Every time your teeth come together, their misalignment causes problems in another system, the muscles.
Factor 2: Your Muscles
Jaw muscles can play as important a role in dysfunction of your jaw as they do in proper function. Once your jaw muscles are unable to find a proper rest position–whether that’s because of poorly matched teeth, jaw trauma, or other factors–the muscles will work to achieve that position by any means necessary. In the short term, straining of the jaw muscles leads to sore muscles, both in the jaw and in nearby locations, contributing to neck pain and headaches. In the long term, these muscles will wear down teeth, dislocate joints, and grind down bone.
Factor 3: Your Joint
The complex temporomandibular joint is designed to give our jaws maximum freedom of movement. Unfortunately, freedom is never free, and the price of temporomandibular joint movement is the risk of displacement.
Displacement is when the cushioning cartilage disc in the joint gets pulled out of position. It can be caused by trauma or by the combined action of the teeth and muscles. Once the disc is out of place, the joint’s function becomes impaired. You may notice a popping sound as the disc shifts, or an irregular motion of the jaw. After a while, you will experience your jaw locking in place.
You may also notice jaw pain and inflammation behind the disc. This is because when the disc is out of place, the bones of the joint are separated by the ligament that’s supposed to hold the disc in place. This not only doesn’t cushion the bones well, it’s vulnerable to damage.
Factor 4: Your Lifestyle
There are also choices that we make that can worsen our TMJ. Smoking increases the risk for all chronic pain conditions, but there’s also biting fingernails and pens, eating too large of food, and other bad habits that contribute to TMJ.
And then there’s the matter of stress. If you live a high-stress life, you’re more likely to be clenching your jaw, which heightens the tensions in the jaw and speeding their effects.
Comprehensive TMJ Treatment
Successful TMJ treatment depends on understanding the role of all these elements. It also depends on a comprehensive approach to dealing with them.
If you are looking for TMJ treatment in San Diego, please call (619) 299-5925 for an appointment with a neuromuscular dentist at Strober Dental today.