TMJ disorders are a group of complex problems of the jaw joint. TMJ disorders are also sometimes referred to as myofascial pain dysfunction and Costen’s syndrome. Because muscles and joints work together, a problem with either one can lead to stiffness, headaches, ear pain, bite problems (malocclusion), clicking sounds, or locked jaws.
There are several factors that can lead to a TMJ disorder. Teeth grinding can be a major contributor to this disorder as it increases the wear on the cartilage lining of the TMJ. Those who grind or clench their teeth may be unaware of this behavior unless they are told by someone observing this pattern while sleeping or by a dental professional noticing telltale signs of wear and tear on the teeth. Many patients awaken in the morning with jaw or ear pain.
Other contributors to TMJ disorders are Dental problems and misalignment of the teeth (know as malocclusion). Patients may complain that it is difficult to find a comfortable bite or that the way their teeth fit together has changed. Chewing on only one side of the jaw can lead to or be a result of TMJ problems. Trauma to the jaw or occupational tasks or habits such as holding the telephone between the head and shoulder may contribute to TMJ disorders as well.
Like in any area of the body, stress can have a negative effect on the jaw joints. Stress can generate a lot of nervous energy. It is very common for people under stress to release this nervous energy by either consciously or unconsciously grinding and clenching their teeth.
There are several treatment options for those who suffer from a TMJ disorder. The first line of treatment usually includes jaw rest, heat and ice therapy, and anti-inflammatory medications. Physical therapy including passively opening and closing the jaw, massage, and electrical stimulation can also be beneficial. A common treatment is the implementation of a mouth guard (also called Occlusal Therapy). The mouth guard is usually worn at night to balance the bite and reduce or eliminate teeth grinding or clenching.
In more severe cases, abnormalities in the bite may need to be corrected by a dental professional. Dental restorations assist in creating a more stable bite. Adjustments of bridges or crowns act to ensure proper alignment of the teeth and can decrease sicomfort caused by TMJ disorders.
In the most severe cases, surgery may be necessary. However, it is only done as a last resort and only in those cases where the pain is severe and all other medical therapies have failed.