Some headaches and jaw pain can be linked to problems in the jaw’s joint. This joint is the TMJ (Temporal Mandibular Joint). TMJ Syndrome is also known as TMJ, TMD, Temporomandibular Disfunction or Disorder.
Many of these headaches and pains can be corrected non-surgically with appliances that help realign the joint. Dr. Harkins has been treating patients with TMJ problems for over 20 years with Bite guards, TMJ splints, temporary bite blocks, crown and bridgework and orthodontics. The installment of the TMJ 3D Cone beam x-ray machine has opened up new and improved conservative treatments in TMJ disorders. This has helped our patients to avoid surgery in most cases.
Chances are you are looking at this page because you or a family member may have been diagnosed as having TMJ syndrome. You can relax. Thousands of patients have been diagnosed and treated for TMJ with excellent results. Others may have the syndrome, but have no idea that it can be treated.
FAQ’s About TMJ
On this page we address some of the most commonly asked questions and concerns about TMJ syndrome, as well as conservative methods of treatment. If you have further questions about diagnosis and treatment, please feel free to ask us.
What Is TMJ Syndrome?
Millions of Americans have it. It’s more common in women than men. Women are more affected between 20 and 40 but TMJ disorders can occur at any age.
The lower jaw (mandible) is attached to the skull by a joint on each side of the face, called the temporomandibular joint. We refer to it as the TMJ. Any number of problems associated with the chewing muscles, ligaments, bones or the joints can prevent the TMJ from functioning properly. Hence, the term TMJ syndrome.
What Are The Symptoms Of TMJ Syndrome?
There are many signs and symptoms of TMJ syndrome, not all necessarily present in all cases. Here are some of the most common:
- Headaches, Migraines particularly present upon awakening, chewing hard or in the evenings
- Tenderness of the jaw muscles
- Pain in or around the ear, that often spreads to the face
- Clicking, popping or grating sounds when opening or closing the mouth
- Eye pain or visual disturbances
- Fullness in the ears or sinuses
- Ringing or buzzing in the ears
- Pain or difficulty in chewing, yawning or opening wide
- Jaws that “get stuck” or “lock”
- Earache or pain when no infection is present
- Dizziness or light headedness
Many people have severe migraines and are unaware that it could be caused by a “bad bite.”
How Can I Be Sure I Have TMJ Syndrome?
The best way to diagnose TMJ syndrome is to rule out other possible causes of pain. Diagnosis includes a thorough oral examination, medical history and X-rays. Palpation and mapping of the muscles that control the TMJ. We also make casts (models) of your teeth, to obtain a record of your biting and chewing pattern.
What Causes TMJ Syndrome?
Disorders often result when the chewing muscles and the TMJ work incorrectly. When this occurs, the muscles frequently cramp or go into spasm. Sometimes the spasms become part of a cycle that results in tissue damage, pain and muscle tenderness.
Accidents, including injuries to the jaw, neck, or head, or even diseases such as arthritis may cause TMJ disorders. The most common cause of TMJ syndrome is from a misguided or bad bite.
Oral Habits (Grinding and Clenching)
People with TMJ symptoms tend to clench or grind their teeth. This is the only way Mother Nature can work on a bad bite. Sometimes patients clench their teeth together subconsciously. Many tend to touch their teeth together and move them together during the day. Or they may actually grind (gnash) their teeth at night. The term for this is bruxism. Sometimes grinding of teeth is a sign of sleep apnea at night. Clenching and grinding make the chewing muscles tired. That’s what causes them to go into spasm. And spasms cause pain. This can be checked out at our office.
A bite in harmony with the joint will position the jaw in the proper place. Sometimes the teeth don’t come together properly when you bite. The general term for this is “malocclusion.” An improper bite may cause stress on your chewing muscles, and the TMJ syndrome prevails.
How Is TMJ Syndrome Treated?
We feel that conservative treatment is best. Because every patient is different, treatment also varies from patient to patient.
- The first step is to eliminate the muscle spasms and pain. We recommend moist heat packs applied to the face, muscle massage and switching to a soft, non-chewy diet. Sometimes mild muscle relaxant drugs and pain medication are needed. Most of the time our 3D TMJ Cone Beam xray will show us the problem.
- Correcting the way the teeth fit together is a must for treating TMJ problems.
- An appliance may need to be fitted in the patients mouth to allow the joint to rest in a healthy position. The appliance can place the joint and teeth in the correct position to bring about healing and eliminate symptoms quickly in most cases. Once the joint no longer hurts, the bite can be corrected using orthodontics, temporary Tmj biteblocks, crowns, or a overlay partial. All this can be done in our office.
- Surgery is the final method of treating TMJ syndrome. It may be used where muscle spasms have occurred for long periods of time, or where the joint, itself, may have become injured or arthritic over time. Sometimes the bones and soft tissues of the TMJ may slip out of normal position as a result of an accident or injury, requiring surgical correction.
Many patients have been successfully treated for TMJ syndrome, using the above techniques. The first step is bringing to our attention any signs or symptoms of TMJ irregularities you may have noticed. In most cases we can successfully and conservatively treat the symptoms associated with TMJ disorders.