TMJ Disorder: What are the symptoms?
TMJ disorder is a very broad term used to describe multiple symptoms from jaw “clicking” when opening and closing the mouth to discomfort in the neck/head/jaw area, and even hearing loss. The logical first step when experiencing any of these symptoms is to visit the dentist for an accurate diagnosis and treatment to find relief.
The temporomandibular joints (TMJ) are located just above the jaw bone in front of the ear on each side of the face. This joint allows the mouth to move up and down and side to side. Needless to say if this joint becomes agitated this can impact just about every aspect of day to day living from eating to speaking, even laughing, smiling or frowning.
What causes this joint to react this way? Often the culprit is grinding or clenching the teeth. Often done during sleep, grinding can result from stress, anger, or a more common problem known as a dental malocclusion.
A malocclusion occurs when the top teeth do not align properly with the bottom teeth. The teeth naturally want to align properly so we subconsciously grind them to what feels normal. The damage done with this action can result in premature wear and tear on teeth or even cracking or breaking of a tooth.
Another cause of TMJ could be the result of an injury. Mouth trauma that might seem innocuous at the time could have long term consequences.
Unfortunately, symptoms of TMJ might point to other causes making a proper diagnosis difficult:
- Head ache
- Ear ache or hearing loss
- Neck or shoulder ache
- Jaw discomfort or the inability to easily open or close the mouth often accommodated with a “clicking” sound
- Mouth tenderness when chewing
- Stiffness around the jaw
Inflammation of these jaw joints can result in one or several of the above symptoms in varying degrees. But when diagnosed correctly, there are solutions.
Initially, the dentist will likely fit the patient with an occlusal guard or a mouth guard to be worn during the night. Consistent use should diminish the grinding and clenching subconsciously done during sleep.
At the same time, the dentist might recommend making subtle adjustments to the bite to restore a more natural occlusion.
Quite often these two steps will bring quick relief to TMJ sufferers, but additional options are available for severe cases or if the original actions are inadequate.
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