Everything you need to know about TMJ disorders

By: Dental Holistix

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders are a collection of more than 30 conditions that cause pain and dysfunction in the jaw joint and muscles that control jaw movement.

TMJ disorders are classified as follows:
1) Joint disorders.
2) Dysfunction of masticatory muscles (chewing muscles).
3) Headaches caused by TMJ disorders

What causes TMJ disorders?

TMJ disorders can be caused by injury to the jaw or the temporomandibular joint; however, in many cases, the exact cause is unknown, which makes TMJ disorders complex to treat. Some of the issues that can lead to TMJ dysfunction include arthritis, grinding or clenching the teeth during sleep, autoimmune diseases and misaligned teeth.

What are the symptoms to look out for?

  • Chewing muscle and/or jaw joint pain (this is the most common symptom).
  • Pain radiating to the face or neck.
  • Stiffness of the jaw.
  • Jaw movement is restricted or locked.
  • When opening or closing the mouth, there is a painful clicking, popping, or grating in the jaw joint.
  • Ear ringing, hearing loss, or dizziness
  • A difference in how the upper and lower teeth fit together.
  • Headaches (though it’s best to rule out other issues first).

While TMJ issues are often mild or come and go, they can sometimes cause a lot of pain and get in the way of daily life. If you have persistent TMJ symptoms, it might be worth giving the clinic a call and talking to one of our dentists about diagnosis and treatment options.

So what can you do? How are TMJ issues treated?

At home treatments

  • Eating soft foods while TMJ symptoms are present.
  • Avoid wide opening of the mouth- more than 2cm if possible, this should help reduce any clicking noises as well.
  • Icing the area to reduce any swelling. Sometimes heat can also be applied intermittently between ice applications to encourage healing after trauma.
  • Using anti-inflammatory medications like nurofen.
  • Reducing stress.
  • Practicing jaw stretching exercises & self massage. You can read our blog on these exercises here.

Bite splints / dental orthotics

A bite splint, also known as a dental orthotic, is a customised oral device made of acrylic that evens out the biting surface of the teeth, stabilising the jaw joints and muscles. Some of these can reduce the tendency to clench, but most are primarily to take the strain off specific teeth and relieve muscle tension.

Botox injections 

Beyond cosmetics, botox is often used for TMJ issues with great success. Botox is usually injected into the massetters or temporalis which are the main chewing muscles (muscles of mastication), helping relax them and thus alleviating pain. The botox effectively weakens the muscle to reduce clenching, without affecting the ability to eat normally. The results usually last 2-6 months and generally after 2-3 rounds of this treatment, the neural cycle that is causing the clenching habit is broken, or at least significantly reduced. Many studies have shown that those who received botox experienced significant improvements in both pain & function.

Surgical procedures

Conservative solutions are always tried before any invasive procedures; however, if the issues are not resolved by other treatments, oral/ maxillofacial surgery may be an option- particularly where the anatomy of the joint has been significantly disfigured with arthritis or previous trauma.

If the cause of TMJ issues is a misaligned bite, an equilibration where teeth are selectively adjusted to remove prominent areas or “interferences”. Replacing missing back teeth to stabilise the bite and support the Temperomandibular joint are also important. In some cases, a full mouth reconstruction may be required to fully restore function and remove pain. This would only be carried out after extensive diagnosis and trials of temporary solutions to ensure this is the right option.

Alternative treatments

Acupuncture, massage, chiropractic adjustment, and trigger point injections (dry needling) are some of the alternative therapies available for the treatment of TMJ disorders; however, the strength of evidence for their effectiveness is quite variable. This is probably due to the individual patient factors and difference in techniques from different practitioners.

Please book an appointment with us if your TMJ issues are really bothersome and you’d like to see one of our dentists. 

Book in for a consultation with Dr Nick Williams

Dr Nick Williams is dedicated to providing long-lasting dentistry of the highest quality and equipping patients to achieve the best oral health possible.

Book Now