The temporomandibular joint (a.k.a. TMJ) is the joint right behind your cheek where your jaw connects to your skull. TMJ dysfunction (a.k.a. TMJ or TMJ syndrome) refers to problems with the joint, the symptoms of which can include anything from lockjaw to jaw pain to pain in the head, neck, and/or ears.
Although TMJ dysfunction does not deal directly with the teeth, it can certainly affect them. After all, your teeth are connected to your jaw and the rest of your head. When one area is affected, chances are good that one or more of the other areas will be similarly affected, which is why you should be concerned about your teeth if you think you might have TMJ dysfunction.
When your TMJ doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, it can make it difficult to chew and/or it might cause you to grind your teeth. If the symptoms manifest as a headache, rather than jaw pain, you might not even realize it’s your jaw that’s giving you trouble, and many people tend to grind their teeth involuntarily when suffering from a headache.
On the other hand, teeth grinding could be causing the tension, especially if you’ve been under a lot of stress lately, which is why it’s always a good idea to talk to your dentist about what’s going on. Grinding your teeth together can cause irreparable damage to the teeth, including loss of enamel and erosion of the top of the teeth, wearing them down and causing them to lose their sharp edges. This is why night guards and bite guards are often recommended as treatments for TMJ dysfunction.
The opposite is also true. If the nature of your TMJ dysfunction doesn’t allow you to close your jaw all the way (or makes it too painful to do so), chewing might become difficult and the teeth could become weakened from lack of use.
Depending on the possible causes of the dysfunction, heat, and performing various exercises can also help loosen the joint and get it back to its normal, pain-free state. In some cases, your dentist might be able to prescribe some medication (such as a muscle relaxant, anti-inflammatory medication, or anti-anxiety drug) to help relieve the pain. Other times it might be a simple matter of eating softer foods, breaking bad habits, such as biting your nails or chewing gum, or practicing relaxation techniques like meditation.
Your dentist won’t be able to address every case of TMJ dysfunction, but they’re a good place to start. Because they’re specialists who work in and around the mouth, they might even know more about the disorder than your GP. Even if it turns out your dentist can’t help you treat the root cause of your TMJ dysfunction (especially if it’s something like stress, which is a common cause of TMJ dysfunction), they can advise you as to the disorder’s effects on your teeth and how to mitigate those effects. The treatment is likely simple, cost effective, and can save you a lifetime of pain and misery by saving your teeth so you’ll have them for years to come.
If you want to keep your teeth healthy and strong, you must take care of them. At Simply Smiles Dentistry, we can show you how to properly care for your teeth. You will have a great smile that lasts a lifetime.
Until next time…Keep on Smiling!