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Can TMJ Be Treated?

9 min read
by JS Dental Lab |

Most of us can eat, turn our necks, and talk without any discomfort. When TMJ is part of your life, you realize how blessed you were before this condition kicked in.

In a healthy mouth, two joints on each side keep the jawbone and skull connected. These are your temporomandibular joints

With them, your mouth can move from side to side, up and down, and forward and backward — all without conscious thought of movement.

Unfortunately, a TMJ disorder occurs when those two joints are out of alignment or damaged. 

As a result, people with what’s frequently referred to as TMJ or TMD experience symptoms in the jaw, neck, and shoulders. 

People often use TMD and TMJ interchangeably, but they’re not quite the same thing. TMJ refers to the joint itself. TMD is shorthand for one of the many disorders that cause problems with the joint.

The good news is that this diagnosis does not have to be endless! TMJ can be cured permanently, and along the journey to resolution, there are ways to manage the pain, too.

In this article, we’ll go over the common questions people with TMJ have about treating and fixing their condition and how you, too, can cure TMJ permanently.

Note: JS Dental is a provider of night guards, specially fitted dental appliances worn overnight to prevent or reduce teeth grinding. Mouth guards usually refer to sporting mouth guards, but they are often used interchangeably. In this article, when we say mouth guard, we are really referring to the night guard for teeth grinding and clenching.

What Does a TMJ Diagnosis Mean?

When you have a TMJ issue, the jaw joints and muscles that control the movement of your mouth are temporarily out of whack. 

If the TMJ pain doesn’t go away shortly after you rest the muscles, you might have a TMD — one of over 30 disorders of this area.

Classifications of TMDs

A TMD diagnosis is a vague label for something that needs a specific treatment. 

Since the temporomandibular joint is a system of muscles and joints working together, to fix it, you need to know which aspect is “out of whack.”

There are three classifications that your diagnosis could fall under: a joint disorder, muscle disorder, or headache disorder. Within each category, there are multiple, more specific disorders. 

We’ll break those down with a few examples here:

Joint Disorders

The joint responsible for your jaw’s movement delicately hinges inside the mandible (your jawbone). It’s a tiny but mighty complex system that performs all the functions necessary for you to chew, yawn, talk, swallow, etc.

When the joint is wholly aligned, they function without a hitch. But the slightest misalignment of the joint causes damage within the bone itself. 

These joint disorders could cause joint pain (arthralgia), disc disorders (that crunching sound you hear when you move your jaw), or bone loss (degenerative joint disease). 

If you wait too long to get help, you might end up with at least one type of joint disorder.

Disorders of the Masticatory Muscles

Masticatory muscles are those we use for chewing. When we masticate, our jaws move up and down and side to side. 

And if you have pain in one area that worsens with pressure (myalgia), one of the TMJ muscles could be inflamed.

Some people have pain that starts in one spot but spreads to another, or the source of the pain is the jaw, but the discomfort is somewhere else. This is myofascial pain stemming from a TMJ muscle.

TMD Headache Disorders

One of the most common temporomandibular joint disorder symptoms is a headache, aside from jaw pain.

For many patients, these headaches are the first real sign that something is going on with their TMJ. 

Headaches can start at the joint and spread throughout the head. People who frequently have migraines find that TMD pain triggers their migraine headaches.

See also: What is an Occlusal Guard? How Does it Work?

Potential Causes of TMJ Pain

Woman researching TMJ causes on laptop

So now that you understand which section your TMJ pain falls under, the next step to curing it is knowing what’s causing the disorder.

TMDs are typically the result of a behavioral, psychological, or physical/hereditary factor. 

Behavioral Causes

Are you grinding and clenching unconsciously? 

Pay attention to your habits when you’re stressed or first wake up. 

Psychological or Emotional Reasons

Psychological factors like stress and anxiety cause the muscles to work overtime, resulting in muscle fatigue. If your body doesn’t have a go-to form of stress release, it uses what it has on hand (or, in this case, the jaw).

When you’re stressed, this overactivity leads to teeth grinding, too. 

Your psychological response might not be conscious. If it waits until you’re sleeping to kick in, you won’t even be aware that you’re overly stressed until you notice the grinding symptoms.

Physical/Hereditary

You might also have a genetic predisposition to TMJ disorders. If your parents had bone structures that make it easy to develop TMD, they could have passed that down to you, too.

Also, women are four times more likely than men to develop a TMD. This may be due to female estrogen receptors.

Any physical trauma, such as a whiplash injury to the neck or head, is another potential TMD cause.

Knowing what your pain stems from can point you in the right direction for treatment. 

Do I Have to See a Specialist?

Your TMJ disorder is as unique as your retina or fingerprint. The cure could be as simple as rest and some home care, or it could be a journey with multiple stopovers along the way.

Since the pain is in the jaw, many people are diagnosed with TMD by their dentist. 

A common treatment plan is a night guard. This can be expensive if you go the traditional dentistry route.

An over-the-counter night guard is a cheaper option. However, these aren’t designed to fit you precisely and can even end up hurting the soft tissue in your mouth. 

Don’t get a mouth guard to cure your TMD — it’s not the same thing as a night guard.

Instead, go through JS Dental Lab if you have TMD. They’ll create a professional, custom-made night guard for you at a fraction of the cost.

Night guards don’t cure the problem, but they effectively reduce the damage caused by it. After you’ve gotten your oral appliance, the next part of your journey is to get TMJ treatment. 

A specialist can help, but what kind of specialist you see is another story.

If your dentist diagnosed you with your disorder, they could refer you to the right experts. 

Types of Specialists Who Help Treat TMD

Not every TMD case needs a specialist’s help, but if yours does, you’ll likely be seeing one of these doctors:

  • Neurologists: If you have headaches, this specialist can pinpoint the cause and alleviate them.
  • Sleep physicians or PCPs: Your primary care physician can treat your sleep apnea-related TMJ, and a sleep study from a sleep physician can give you specific details about your behavior when you’re slumbering.
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgeons (OMS): In the cases of severe muscle, joint, and ligament issues in the maxillofacial region, an OMS can surgically treat the problem.
  • General practitioners: If the symptoms of TMJ involve facial pain and neck pain that is too hard to handle, your general doctor can prescribe pain relief.

  • Rheumatologists: Joint dysfunctions fall under the scope of a rheumatologist.

  • Pain management: For pain relief that won’t go away, a pain management specialist is necessary.

  • Physical therapists: To teach you how to handle the range of motion of your jaw and reduce painful movements, a physical therapist is your go-to.
    • Splint therapy: TMD problems caused by grinding can benefit from splint therapy with night guards. Head to JS Dental Lab to have professionals custom-make yours.

    Your treatment plan will depend on your type of TMD, the cause, and the severity of symptoms. Chances are, during your journey, you’ll end up in the care of one or more of these specialists who can help you find the right cure.

    Related: Common Reasons You Wake Up With Jaw Pain

    It Hurts! How Can I Make it Stop?

    Man holding his jaw in pain

    All of this info is helpful, but we know what you want is a relief from the TMJ pain asap! 

    Finding a permanent cure doesn’t happen overnight, though it can be your long-term goal.

    But in the meantime, here are some methods to relieve or reduce your discomfort.

    Pain Caused By Stress

    If your TMJ issues result from bruxism, the grinding and clenching of your jaw are most likely stress-related.

    Reducing your stress, therefore, decreases your grinding. Unfortunately, there’s no magic wand to make your stressful situations go away.

    But there are some tips you can try while you’re waiting for the specialist:

    • Practice mindfulness, such as mindful breathing, yoga, and meditation
    • Take a walk in the woods or another quiet outdoor area a few times per week
    • Release your stresses in a journal to help keep your thoughts positive
    • Talk to a mental health counselor to learn coping strategies to deal with stress

    There isn’t an all-in-one way to handle stress because everyone’s pain threshold and situations are individual. 

    These tips work by reducing your blood pressure and cortisol levels. However, you might need something else, as well, and it’s okay to ask for help from a professional. 

    If your stress, depression, or anxiety aren’t going away, let your doctor know how serious the problem is while you can still control it.

    Pain From Grinding

    Grinding and clenching also cause physical discomfort. Your bite force when you’re sleeping is naturally strong, but with bruxism, it increases. Biting down on your teeth and then grinding them damages the enamel.

    In fact, it leads to tooth decay and sensitivity, and jawbone erosion over time.

    Splint therapy with a night guard reduces damage to your teeth and bone. Within a short time after using your guard regularly, you’ll usually notice a reduction in pain. 

    Pain Management

    Pain management techniques help get rid of the discomfort temporarily. These commonly used methods offer TMJ pain relief to some degree.

    OTC NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications) like Aleve or Ibuprofen are sometimes taken to take the edge off the discomfort. If these don’t help, ask your doctor if muscle relaxants are right for you.

    Also try placing an ice pack on the joint for 15 minutes at a time to reduce pain caused by swelling. Just make sure you don’t apply the ice pack directly to your skin! Use a thin towel between the pack and your jaw. 

    Moist heat is a common suggestion. It relaxes you and soothes your muscles, but it doesn’t reduce inflammation.

    Other conservative treatment options, such as acupuncture, work to relax your facial muscles. When the jaw and neck are at rest, the pain levels aren’t as intense.

    Finally, gently stretch the neck and jaw muscles. Trigger point massage and gentle stretches suggested by your doctor or physical therapist can soothe the muscles and relieve pain.

    How Can I Treat My TMJ Condition?

    Working with a specialist is your first step on the road to eliminating the problem.

    They’ll probably refer you for physical therapy. This is a significant non-surgical treatment step because you’ll learn jaw exercises and stretches to handle flare-ups without needing medication or outside help.

    The therapist may also suggest and use something called a TENS machine. Short for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, this therapy is a standard secondary treatment for pain management. 

    If it works for you, your therapist can train you in the proper techniques and suggest an at-home device.

    And don’t forget your night guard! Use your custom night guard every night to reduce the damage to your oral health from spreading further.

    As you go through the process of managing your TMJ disorder, the muscles and jaw have time to heal. The damage doesn’t have to be permanent, so these methods become a cure.

    Because you know what’s going on in your mouth, you’re able to catch any future problems early. 

    As a last resort, though, surgery is an option if the damage is too extensive. The surgical procedure repairs the joints and muscles and replaces them correctly.

    Discover: Is There a Homeopathic Remedy for Teeth Grinding?

    What Should I Do Next to Improve My TMJ Permanently?

    If you haven’t contacted a specialist yet, use your symptoms and this article to pinpoint which type of expert help you need.

    If your dentist or specialist recommends a night guard, consider JS Dental Lab for a night guard to prevent further TMJ damage and reduce your symptoms. 

    Don’t talk more than you have to, and avoid foods that make your jaw work harder. Sticky foods and chewing gum, hard foods (apples, ice), chewy or tough meat, and hard-to-chew nuts can trigger TMJ pain. 

    Your best bet is to stick with soft foods until you have a handle on your TMD.

    You’ll notice that resting your jaw on your hand or pushing upward causes pain, too, so try to catch yourself before you do this.

    Conclusion

    Believe it or not, a diagnosis of temporomandibular joint disorder can be a good thing! After all, there are several treatment options and possible cures.

    Now that you know what’s going on in your mouth, you can start focusing on finding a solution. Hopefully, with these tips and a night guard from JS Dental Lab, the your TMJ symptoms will be better managed.

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