What You Need to Know About the TMJ
What is TMD?
TMD stands for TemporoMandibular Disorder or Dysfunction. People commonly refer to this as “TMJ”. TMJ actually means TemporoMandibular Joint, and we all have two TMJ’s. TMD is what dentists refer to when the joint has a problem. There are many different types of problems and different levels of severity of these problems.
TMJ is the TemporoMandibular Joint, which connects your lower jaw to your upper jaw. It is a ball and socket joint, and it is the most complex joint in the body because it is the only joint in which the ball comes out of the socket during normal function. Anytime you open to speak, yawn, chew or laugh the joint must move within the socket and many times out of the socket. The joint involves two bones (the ball and the socket, anatomically named the condyle and the fossa) separated by a cartilage disc. The disc is held in place by ligaments and muscles.
How does TMD happen?
There are many reasons for TMD to happen. One of the most common reasons is damage to the muscles and ligaments that hold the disc in position. The muscles and ligaments work to maintain the disc’s position within the joint space during function. If the muscles or ligaments are put under pressure or torqueing forces, damage to the joint can occur. These pressures can develop from many causes; some of these include trauma to the head and/or neck, functional habits like clenching or grinding of the teeth, or posturing the jaw into abnormal positions.
What does it mean to be high risk?
If you are high risk, you show signs that the muscles, ligaments, or disc may be in a vulnerable state or have suffered damage in the past. When there is vulnerability and/or damage, it is necessary to diagnose and stabilize or treat the joint and supporting structures, including the teeth. Some of the risk signs include, but are not limited to:
- Flat spots on the teeth (wear facets)
- Enlarged jaw muscle size
- Presence of a line on the inside of the cheek (linea alba)
- Joint sounds, including popping or crunching/gravel-like noise with or without pain
- Asymmetry of the face structures or asymmetry during opening or closing
- Scalloping of the tongue
- Tenderness of the jaw muscles
- Headaches in the temples
- Tenderness in the ear, ringing of the ear
- Gum recession or tooth notching at the gum line
- Anterior open bite; the front upper six teeth do not overlap the lower front six teeth
Diagnosis for TMD is similar to diagnosis for any other joint problem. It is essential to acquire images in order to determine the condition of the joint. Dr. Chowning will listen for any sounds your joint may make during function. These sounds are instrumental in the diagnosis of the problems in your joint. In addition to 3D imaging, we use models and photographs of the teeth to aid in the diagnosis of the joint condition and how it has affected your bite. This allows him to correlate the 3D images with the evidence in your mouth.
What treatment will I need?
Treatment for TMD varies greatly. Like damage to the knee, some injuries require surgery. More moderate injuries and concerns can sometimes be treated with oral appliances, orthodontics, physical therapy and/or medication. In order to determine what treatment best suits you, a proper diagnosis with images, models and photographs is the key. Without the correct diagnosis, it is impossible to determine what treatment is right for your joint condition.
What if I don’t do anything?
Without treatment, a very high percentage of high-risk joints progress to a degenerative state over time. This can include loss of the disc (similar to a slipped disc in the back), arthritis, and changes in the occlusion of the teeth (bite). Many people without treatment develop chronic neck and jaw pain. Other patients will adapt to the dysfunctional joint and experience little to no symptoms at all. It is impossible to predict how TMJ dysfunction will affect a person over the course of his or her life.
Want more information?
Call our office at 940-382-1750 to set up a TMJ consultation with Dr. Chowning. He will discuss your specific signs and symptoms of TMD, how it could affect your quality of life, and what treatment options are available for you.