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TMJ Disorder - A Custom Balancing TMJ Splint

Do you have joint pain or headaches in one or both sides of your face? Does your ear hurt sometimes, or do you have ringing in your ear? Or perhaps do you notice that you have clicking, popping, or noise when you open or close your mouth? You may have TMJ disorder (Temporal Mandibular Joint). The joint connects your lower jaw (the mandible) to the socket of your skull at the temporal bone in front of the ear. This joint is one of the most complex joints in the body and allows your mandible to move up and down, side to side, and back and forth. There is a small piece of cartilage between your mandible and socket at the joint that protects your bones from wear and tear. But when the cartilage is worn down or the alignment of the two bones are not ideal due to trauma, accidents, or grinding and clenching, you can cause more disruption and more flare-ups at the joint level, causing TMJ disorder. TMJ disorder is not only caused by genetics (dictated by habits and personalities), but is also caused by the environment (such as big life events or stressful situations) that cause the continual clenching of the jaw muscles and/or teeth grinding. Up to 15% of adults in ages 20 to 40 have TMJ disorder, and it is more prevalent in women than in men.

Some of the symptoms of TMJ disorder are:

  • Mild to severe pain when opening or closing mouth
  • Jaw becoming stuck open or shut in severe cases
  • Trouble chewing
  • Headaches or ear pain
  • Clicking or popping sounds when opening your mouth
  • Teeth Grinding and/or clenching

Many of these symptoms can often be associated with other health problems, so only a medical professional can tell you if it is due to TMJ disorder. Teeth grinding is an especially problematic symptom because it can lead to further problems. Prolonged teeth grinding, or bruxism, can cause enamel to wear off teeth and expose dentin. This material is softer than enamel and more susceptible to decay. Sensitivity to hot and cold food or drink may also develop from excessive teeth grinding.

Treatments

Most TMJ disorders are bi-factorial (caused by genetics and environment), sometimes behavioral counseling can help patients understand the factors and behaviors that may aggravate their pain so they can avoid them. In very severe cases of TMJ disorder, referring you to a specialist in TMJ may be necessary or surgery may be required, but only if other conservative treatments have been unsuccessful. Most of the time, patients with TMJ will want to wear a balancing TMJ splint nightly as a daily routine to protect the joint from flare-ups. TMJ splint therapy can help reduce the pressure on the teeth, muscles, and joints. These joints control many jaw functions, like chewing, talking, and smiling; therefore, it is very important to keep these joints healthy.

At-Home Care

Sometimes Dr. Hanah Pham will recommend something that you can easily do at home, such as:

  • Taking over the counter medications
  • Putting hot/cold compresses on the tender area of the jaw
  • Eating softer foods
  • Limiting your jaw movement if possible
  • Doing TMJ jaw exercises to stretch and relax your jaw
  • Stress management - medication, exercise, and hobbies that can release your tension and stress
  • And absolutely no chewing gum or biting your nails

Non-Surgical TMJ Treatments at Reston Sunrise Dentistry

Medication

Along with other non-surgical treatments, the medication option may relieve the pain associated with TMJ disorders:

  • Anti-Inflammatory and Pain Relievers - Dr. Hanah Pham may recommend over-the-counter pain medications that are anti-inflammatory in nature. In more moderate to severe pain, she may recommend prescribe a stronger pain reliever for short-term periods.
  • Muscle Relaxants - In acute TMJ pain, Dr. Hanah Pham may prescribe muscle relaxants for a few days or weeks to help relax the muscles that are in spasm caused by TMJ disorder.
  • Tricyclic Anti-Depressants - In severe cases where patients cannot sleep, Dr. Hanah Pham may prescribe tricyclic anti-depressants in low dosage, such as Amitriptyline to relieve pain, decrease muscle contraction, and cause sleepiness. These medications are normally used for depression, but in low dosage they can be used for TMJ disorder.

Therapies

  • Splint Therapy - There are different types of TMJ splints; Dr. Hanah Pham will evaluate your condition and will recommend certain types of splints that are the most comfortable to treat your TMJ symptoms.
  • Physical Therapy and Behavioral Counseling

If you suspect you may have TMJ disorder, for a free consultation call our office at (703) 860-4148. Behavioral treatments to change the way you use your jaw muscles are usually enough to provide relief.

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