In today’s stressful society, many people suffer from “TMJ.” While most people refer to it as TMJ, actually, the correct term is called “TMD” or “Temporomandibular Disorder.”
What is TMJ?
Everybody has a TMJ, which stands for temporomandibular joint. When things go wrong with this joint or the muscles that surround it, we call it a temporomandibular disorder or TMD. There are many different types of TMD problems, which include the following:
- popping or clicking
- limited opening
- painful opening or closing
- muscle spasms
- strained muscles
Depending on the type of problem you have, Dr. Taylor and Dr. Mortensen will educate you regarding your diagnosis and recommend a course of treatment.
In general, there is good news! For most people, time is the best remedy. That is hardly comforting for someone in pain, but it should be comforting to know it will get better. More specifically, our bodies are amazingly adaptive. When our normal joint function is traumatized, disrupted, or changed in some way, our bodies begin the adaptive process.
Common Joint and Muscle problems
Most people who experience joint pain will pass through a cycle:
- acute pain (throbbing or severe pain) usually lasts for a few days to a few weeks
- mild-to-moderate pain (dull ache) usually lasts for a few weeks to several months
- no pain (duration varies per patient)
During this cycle, our bodies are remodeling our joints so they can accommodate the changes. Some people will repeat this cycle frequently, while others will only experience it once.
As we get older, however, those who experience this cycle of pain will usually see it happen less frequently and less severely. For a small portion of patients, the pain doesn’t remit or get better on its own. Those patients will definitely need orthodontic or surgical intervention.
More good news is that there are some things that can be done to reduce the pain while we are waiting for your body to adapt.
Popping or clicking without pain
A good portion of the population has some type of pop or click in their joint. For most people, it is asymptomatic, meaning it doesn’t hurt. The pop or click is caused by your jaw bone “popping” or sliding onto and off of the cartilage that rests in the joint. As long as it is not painful, we will simply monitor the click over time. For most people, it never causes any significant problems.
Popping or clicking with pain
Occasionally, a pop or click is due to a functional shift, which means a person’s bite is off so they shift into a different position. If this is the case, then fixing the person’s bite can help with the click. If the individual can open and close normally without “shifting,” then usually braces won’t help the click. In these cases, the pain is best managed by reducing the stress on the joint through a combination of the following:
- behavior changes (soft diet and rest)
- physical prevention (custom night guard properly designed to address the problem)
- pharmaceuticals (anti-inflammatory medications or muscle relaxants)
- laser therapy
Muscle Pain / Headaches
People who suffer from jaw pain of muscular origin are usually clenchers or grinders (bruxers). Don’t worry; you’re not alone. Most people grind or clench their teeth at some point in their lives. Our jaws are made to tolerate a certain amount of grinding and clenching.
It becomes a problem, however, when the grinding and clenching are too frequent. Our muscles need rest, and when they don’t get that rest, they eventually tire out and begin to swell and/or ache. Treatment options for muscle pain are similar to those for joint pain:
- laser therapy
- behavior management (soft diet and rest)
- physical reduction (custom nightguard properly made to address the problem)
- pharmaceuticals (anti inflammatories and muscle relaxants)