Most people have at least a vague of idea what temporomandibular joint disorder, more commonly known as TMJ or TMD, is. They may associate with the clicking or even the locking of the jaw, and most people know someone who suffers from the disorder. But despite this, there’s plenty of misinformation out there about this common but poorly understood disorder.
What is TMJ?
Medical professionals aren’t exactly sure what causes TMJ, which is why the disease can be so difficult to diagnose and treat. It’s identifiable by the misalignment of the jaw and the inflammation of the fragile, complex temporomandibular joint. This joint permits a wide range of motion and bears the strain of constant daily use.
Symptoms of TMJ can vary from patient to patient. Jaw pain is common, and as the disorder worsens, the popping and clicking sounds that are popularly associated with TMJ become more likely. Headaches, pain in the back, neck, and shoulders, and bruxism (clenching and grinding of the teeth) are also common symptoms. Bruxism can lead to worn, chipped, or broken teeth, which are highly visible signs of a TMJ problem. There are even stranger, less obvious symptoms, like numbness or tingling in the fingers, ringing or pain in the ears, and even poor posture.
For many people, TMJ is simply something you live with. One TMJ sufferer was quoted in a recent Washington Post article about her experiences with the disorder: “Every time I go to a new dentist, it’s usually the first thing they say to me when I open my mouth — ‘Oh, you have TMJ.’ I’ve learned how to hide it or minimize it while in social settings where food is involved,” Jennifer Stacey told the Washington Post reporter. “I’d never been told it was treatable.”
TMJ May Not be Curable, But it’s Treatable
There isn’t a cure for TMJ — not yet, at least. But many people like Jennifer Stacey aren’t getting the full story from their dentists and doctors. TMJ isn’t just something you have to live with. There are treatments that can reduce your discomfort, lessen your symptoms, and help prevent worsening damage and pain.
Step one is getting diagnosed. If you have symptoms of TMJ or have been told before that you may have it, it’s important to see an experienced TMJ dentist like Dr. Rod Strober to get a solid diagnosis. Only then can you have access to the treatment options that can improve your life with TMJ.
Dr. Strober will likely begin by suggesting the least invasive option: TENS treatments, a sort of electric massage that can relax the muscles in the jaw. For some patients, periodic TENS treatments are enough to treat their TMJ effectively. For those who need a stronger treatment, a custom orthotic appliance can help guide your jaw into the position of least tension. If you have success with the orthotic, but don’t like wearing it, there are other options. Dr. Strober can adjust your bite to achieve the same results without the orthotic.