As November rolls around, I have been made aware that it is officially TMJ awareness month. So, what is this TMJ thing? What does it do? Why is it so important? Well, it all begins with a little piece of tissue that is on top of your jaw bone and is supposed to cushion the jaw as you open and close. It’s sort of like a knee cap on your knee, but it’s on top of your jaw bone. When this little piece of tissue slides off the jaw bone, it can literally wreak havoc with your entire body! Let me explain. First of all, TMJ refers to the Temporo Mandibular Joint. Inside this joint is where the top of the jaw bone (the condyle) resides, and on top of the condyle rests the articular disc. There you have it folks, all the anatomy you need to understand TMJD (temporomandibular joint disorder).
So now let’s talk about displaced or slipped discs. Imagine that your doctor informs you that you have a slipped disc in your lower back. The light bulb goes off in your head and now you understand why you have pain in your legs and/or back. It just makes sense because we have all heard about slipped discs all our lives. Very few people, however, understand that slipped discs in the jaw joints can cause all sorts of health issues like headaches, migraines, neck pain, back pain, and even tics and numbness. Most of the patients who come to my office have already been to ENT’s, neurologists, regular MD’s, dentists, and even psychologists to figure out what is going on.
A really good way to figure out if you have TMJ disorder is to measure how big your mouth opens. Measure from the tip of the upper front teeth to the tip of the lower front teeth at the most you can open your mouth. This should be around 50 mm. If you only open to 35 or 40 mm, the odds are that the articular discs are likely out of place and will block your ability to open your mouth widely. And if those little discs are out of place, they are going to pinch blood vessels and nerves that travel through that joint- and there are so many of them!
So many people suffer needlessly from slipped discs in their jaw joints. It is relatively easy to take the pressure off the joints and promote healing, however, many people do not deal with the problem while it is easier to fix. Many folks wait until it is quite painful and are hoping there is some kind of quick and magical cure for this problem. There really is not- it takes time and patience to give the discs a chance to get back into proper position. Many times, we are able to move the discs into a better position and that is when the patient notices the relief they have been wanting for so very long.
By being aware of the TMJ and the various problems slipped discs can create, you can help yourself and others who are close to you. If you or someone you know has popping or clicking in the jaw joints, this indicates that the discs are out of place and need treatment. In my office, the first thing we do is assess the situation and see if a problem actually exists. If there appears to be a problem with the TMJ, then an MRI of the jaw joints is ordered to determine how displaced the articular discs might be. At the next appointment we review the options and show the patient the MRI findings. From there, a plan for treatment is developed. Generally, we work with our patients for a year or so to help the discs get back into proper position. This is Phase I as we call it and the goal here is to help those discs get back into place if they are able to. From there, we will figure out how to finish up, so you no longer need to keep up with our office on a regular basis. Our success rate is extremely high, and as with all things, the sooner you deal with the problem, the more likely we can get you better. So now you know a little more about TMJ disorders and what to do about it. Schedule a consultation for a screening so we can assess the situation and get to the root of the problem.
Here are some of the symptoms you might want to look for to help you in understanding TMD Disorder:
- Locking of the jaw and inability to open or close your mouth
- Pain in and around the ears
- Jaw pain and tenderness
- Headaches and/or Migraines
- Neck/Shoulder/Back pain
Some of the causes of TMJ Disorder include the following:
- Poor posture- in today’s modern society we are notoriously hunched over a computer all day and this is highly contributory to TMJD
- In the event of an injury the discs are more likely to be knocked out of proper position
- A misaligned bite or previous orthodontic treatment that did not pay attention to the articular discs
- Teeth grinding and/or clenching
- Bony defects like arthritis
In my office we also coach our patients through the process of treatment and teach many different exercises to alleviate tension through the head/neck region. These exercises (https://sleepandtmjtherapy.com/treatment-stories/) are posted on our website and include head movements, tongue exercises, and even meditation.
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