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What is the temporomandibular joint?

The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, functions as a sliding hinge that connects the jawbone to the skull.  There are two TMJs, each located on either side of the jaw.

What is TMJ disorder?

TMJ disorders may cause pain in your jaw joint area and in the jaw muscles that control movement. Pain associated with TMJ disorders can be due to a variety of factors such as trauma to the jaw, arthritis and genetics. Habits such as grinding or clenching of teeth can also cause TMJ disorders. Pain is usually temporary and is relieved with habitual modifications or non-invasive treatment.

Symptoms of TMJ disorders

  • Jaw pain or tenderness

  • Pain affecting one or both TMJs

  • An aching pain near the ears

  • Pain or difficulty when chewing

  • A locking of the TMJ, which affects opening or closing of the mouth

  • Clicking noise or grating feeling when opening or chewing

When is treatment recommended?

Treatment is recommended when your dentist has diagnosed the condition. See your dentist if you have frequent jaw pain or tenderness. If you find it hard to open or close your jaw fully, you should let your dentist know as well.

Possible Causes

The TMJ relies on cartilage and a small shock-absorbing disk to maintain smooth movements. Issues with these parts can cause pain and improper movement. Some possible causes are:

  • Erosion of the disk

  • Misalignment of the disk

  • Joint cartilage damage due to arthritis

  • Trauma to the joint

  • Habitual clenching or grinding of teeth

Treatment options

TMJ disorders may go away on their own without treatment in some cases. For the other cases, a variety of treatments may be used until an effective treatment is found. Treatment is usually non-surgical in nature but in some cases, your dentist may refer you to a specialist for certain surgical procedures.

Pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications may be used to relieve TMJ pain.

Relaxation techniques that focus on slowing breathing down or taking deep breaths may relax tense muscles and reduce pain.

Muscle relaxants may also be used to help relieve pain.

Night guards are beneficial when relieving the effects of TMJ disorders. These are worn over the teeth, usually during sleep.

What is a night guard?

A night guard may also be referred to as a bite splint or occlusal splint. It is a protective oral appliance that is made with a thick acrylic material that fits over your teeth. It creates a gap or space that prevents teeth from grinding against each other. While it may not fully stop grinding or clenching, it acts to protect teeth by minimizing stress on the jaw joints, chewing muscles and teeth. Teeth wear down against the night guard and not other teeth. This prevents damage to the teeth and gives the jaw a rest.

How do I get a night guard?

While there are generic fitted night guards available, you should get a custom-fitted night guard from your dental office for best results. A custom-fitted night guard will ensure that your jaw is aligned properly. It will also result in a much more stable fit and will not press against your gums.

How do I start?

If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned frequently, you should see your dentist to discuss diagnosis and treatment options. Taking action sooner can help to prevent further damage to your teeth and to the TMJ.

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