What is Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD)?
Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) refers to a group of related disorders that are a result from problems with the jaw or jaw joint, or the facial muscles involved in jaw movement. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the small joint located in front of the ear where the skull and lower jaw meet. This joint enables the jaw to move and function normally, and is one of the most frequently used joints in our body. Everyday activity such as talking, yawning, chewing and swallowing all involve the TMJ. For the TMJ to function properly, the muscles, ligaments and bones involved in its movement must be working properly; any conditions that prevent them from doing so may cause TMD.
What is TMJ?
TMJ stands for Temporomandibular Joint. This refers to the joints in the jaw responsible for comfortable movement and strength. Typically, when people use the term TMJ, they are referring to TMD – Temporomandibular Joint Disorder.
This is a relatively common jaw problem that involves painful jaw movement, or in extreme cases, barely being able to move the jaw at all. It is often associated with other ailments and symptoms (see below) and can greatly impact a person’s daily life.
As a certified neuromuscular dentist, Dr. Barney views the patient’s TMJ as a whole system, including the jaw, neck, and head.
TMJ can include a variety of symptoms, coupled with jaw pain and/or stiffness. The combination symptoms can be:
- Headaches or migraines
- Neck and shoulder pain
- Ringing in the ears
- Finger numbness
- Lower back pain
- Loose teeth (without decay)
- Jaw locking
If you are experiencing these symptoms regularly, it’s a good idea to be examined for TMJ. Dr. Barney will go over your complete medical history with you, and conduct a neuromuscular dental exam to determine whether TMJ is the root cause of your problems. After Dr. Barney completes a full TMJ examination, he will let you know the best course of treatment and how to proceed.
Treatment for TMJ can involve many different options, depending on the severity of the case. Dr. Barney will assess your head, neck, teeth, and jaw to diagnose the severity of your case. If your problems are not very severe – light cracking or pain in the jaw every now and then, for example, you will probably be advised to take some lighter approaches. These include:
- Adding some new self-care habits to your dental routine
- Applying heat or cold to the area
- Jaw, neck, and shoulder stretches
- Eating a soft food diet, avoiding hard or crunchy foods
- Wearing a mouth guard at night to stop teeth grinding
- Light painkillers such as ibuprofen that are also anti-inflammatory. If these do not work, higher-strength medications can be prescribed
- Relaxation exercises to help alleviate jaw clenching
If these do not work, or if you have a more severe case of TMJ, Dr. Barney will use more involved treatment options. First, your jaw will be measured with a tool named the Myo-Monitor, which measures where your jaw should set for a comfortable position. Once this is determined, a treatment named Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) helps push the jaw into a good position. The TENS treatment works by using low electrical currents to relax the jaw into a more natural resting position. This will often get rid of the extreme symptoms of TMJ.
The best way to know for sure is to get examined. Dr. Barney will give you a full examination and let you know the best course of treatment, and how to proceed.
Can TMJ Cause Any Other Health Issues?
Besides your jaw, neck, shoulders, head, and sometimes fingertips, TMJ can affect your mental state. Although it has no adverse effects on the body otherwise, it can make you feel self-conscious and sluggish when you constantly have to deal with pain or jaw locking. Other symptoms like migraines can adversely affect your day-to-day life, as well.
When Is TENS Treatment Needed?
TENS treatment is necessary when TMJ is affecting you everyday. It is not intended for people who have only some pain or jaw cracking every now and then. TENS treatment work best when your TMJ is seriously affecting your concentration and mood. It’s also used for more serious conditions related to TMJ such as jaw locking.
Schedule a Consultation
If you are experiencing signs of TMJ, it is important to seek treatment so that your symptoms do not worsen, and you can find relief as quickly as possible. Call (304) 754-8803 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Barney and get his expert advice on what the next step should be for you.