Although we often refer to temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) as if it’s a single condition, it’s really an umbrella term that covers many types of related jaw problems, some of which are more easily treated than others. Often, we can trace the cause of your TMJ to the specific type of the condition you have and then to the type of treatment you need.
Malocclusion (Bad Bite)
A bad bite can cause TMJ by preventing your jaw from achieving a comfortable position. When your jaw muscles can’t find a relaxing position, they will constantly pull on your jaw, causing muscle tension that results in jaw pain, tooth wear and damage, and, ultimately, damage to the jaw joint.
When a bad bite is the cause of your TMJ, we will recommend a bite splint that can hold your jaw in the proper position for rest and recovery. Once we’ve determined the ideal position for your jaw, we can talk about achieving permanent results with dental restorations that will fix your bite.
Jaw Trauma or Whiplash
Traumatic force can cause your jaw to become dislocated. Traumatic force can be delivered by an actual blow, or as a result of whiplash, in which your jaw was subjected to a lot of force but didn’t receive an actual blow. A common cause of whiplash is a car accident where the body stops because of your seat belt, and the force of stopping your body travels along the body to the temporomandibular joints, which can become dislocated.
Sometimes this type of TMJ can be treated simply. TENS is a form of electric massage that encourages your muscles to relax, allowing the jaw to be maneuvered back into place. Sometimes, this is a one-time treatment. Other times, it may have to be performed multiple times to maintain results.
Our jaws aren’t designed to work like they used to. Although our primitive ancestors spend about half of their day eating, cooking has reduced that time down dramatically, so that we only spend about 5% of our day chewing. Over the two million years since cooking began, the shape and structure of our jaw has changed, so it’s no longer suited to spending all day chewing on tough material.
If you spend a lot of your day chewing on gum or nonfood objects, or if you switch to a raw food vegetarian diet, you might find that your jaw becomes stressed out, which can lead to jaw joint damage, including dislocation of the jaw joint. In its early stages, this can be treated with simple rest and changing your habits. As it develops, it may require surgery.
Bruxism is a special kind of overworked jaw caused by involuntary clenching and grinding of your teeth. Bruxism can occur while you’re awake, or it can occur during sleep. It may be related to stress, could be cause by a prescription, or it may be secondary to a bad bite or overworked jaw. Bruxism can quickly cause damage to your teeth and jaw joints.
Bruxism-related TMJ is treated with a bite splint that protects your teeth and jaw, and, hopefully, by identifying and addressing the cause.
Arthritis can affect your jaw joint just like it affects other joints in the body. Osteoarthritis is the “normal” type of arthritis that occurs with age and wear on the jaw joint. The cushioning disk in the jaw can break down, leading the bones to grind, causing significant damage.
Rheumatoid arthritis can strike people of any age. It’s an autoimmune disorder in which your body’s immune system attacks the tissue of your joints. It can also lead to the breakdown of the cushioning disk and grinding bone.
When possible, treatment of the arthritis is used to prevent damage. Often, though, surgical treatment is required for this type of TMJ
The Right Treatment for You
At Winters Dental Excellence, we work hard to identify the true cause of your TMJ and get appropriate treatment for you. To learn what’s behind your TMJ and how best to treat it, please call (918) 528-3330 for an appointment with a Tulsa TMJ dentist.