You might have heard the term TMJ used to describe an assortment of conditions, even incorrectly referred to by some as lockjaw. But what is it really? TMJ, or temporomandibular joint, disorder is a common, sometimes misdiagnosed condition that is frequently discovered and treated by dentists.
What Are Temporomandibular Joints (TMJ)?
Why the long, complicated name? Simply put, temporo, meaning "of the head" and mandibular, meaning "of the lower jaw," come together to describe the joints responsible for opening and closing your mouth. These joints are located on each side of your head and intricately work together to help you speak, chew, and swallow.
What Causes Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorder?
For patients suffering from symptoms of TMJ disorder, activities like chewing gum, eating, or even yawning can stretch and irritate the temporomandibular joints. This results in a variety of symptoms that are incorrectly blamed on other conditions. TMJ disorder can be caused or worsened by multiple conditions or diseases, including injury, misalignment in the teeth or jaws, arthritis, and grinding (bruxism). Research has shown that 75% of Americans will experience at least a mild form of the disorder in their lifetime, and 90% of them are female.*
Treating Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorder
First of all, diagnosis is key to beginning proper treatment. Why is this disorder frequently misdiagnosed? That's because it's not fully understood or recognized. Dentists and other oral health specialists are specifically trained to treat this disorder, making it easier for them to recognize its symptoms. Additionally, this disorder mimics an entire array of possible causes, so it's quite easy for a primary care physician to overlook it or rule it out. Common symptoms include:
- Ear pain or ringing in the ears
- Pain in the neck and/or shoulders
- Jaw popping and/or stiffness
- Difficulty swallowing
If you suspect TMJ disorder, your dentist is the primary expert in its diagnosis since he or she specializes in treating conditions involving the teeth, jaws, and bite. In the meantime, anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, may provide short-term relief from your symptoms. Once diagnosed, your dentist will work with you to develop a plan for treatment, including lifestyle changes, modifications in your diet (such as softer foods), physical therapy, and in severe cases, even surgery. Sometimes, even a simple mouthguard worn during bedtime can help alleviate pain and irritation.
Dr. Austin and his friendly, professional staff will be there with you every step of the way, from diagnosis to treatment. If you've been looking for an expert dentist in Little Rock, Arkansas, contact us today!