Contrary to way the term “TMJ” is commonly used in conversation, it describes the joint (a temporal mandibular joint) that is involved in the opening and closing of the mouth, not a health condition. In fact, TMD, also known as temporomandibular dysfunction, describes the condition that creates pain in the mouth. Dr. Shaffer and his team at Alon Dental Care offer TMD treatment to help patients maintain their oral health and feel comfortable on a daily basis. If you believe you may be suffering from TMD, contact Robin to schedule a consultation.
So what is a temporomandibular joint? Humans, like you and me, have a hinged joint that allows our lower jaw (mandible) to open against our upper jaw called our maxilla. The opening and closing of our jaws are controlled by muscles, most of which are attached to our temple (temporal bone), lower jaw, and upper jaw. Inside the joint is like the inside of our knee joint. There is a cartilage pad that fits between the head of the mandible, called the condyle, and the capsule of the temporal bone.
Just like any joint there can be several things that can go wrong. You can injure the joint, get arthritis in the joint, wear down the cartilage, or overuse the muscles around the joint. All of this can cause pain to some extent every time we move our lower jaw. There can also be a malformation of the bones when they are forming, either as a baby or early childhood, and this can cause all of the above to happen to the jaw.
What Causes TMD?
Jaw pain can be caused habitually or incidentally. As Dr. Shaffer explains, some people are “type A” personalities. You are driving down the street and another person cuts in front of you abruptly and you tell that person, even though they can’t hear you, what you think of them through your clenched teeth. Or your boss comes into your office at work and tells you that it is your time to work over a holiday or weekend, even though you are not the next scheduled person, and you clench your teeth trying not to tell him/her what you think.
Other patients may not have habits that bring about TMD, but can still experience jaw paint. Take for example, one of Dr. Shaffer’s past patients whose life seemed great. Her last child had left home to go to college (the empty nest syndrome) and her husband was ending his stress-filled job to retire early. They were planning to enjoy life, travel, and live well. Life, she said was very good, except for this nagging and sometimes severe jaw pain. Dr. Shaffer listened to her and asked a simple question. What was she doing with all the extra time she had during the days now? She said she had gone back to college to finish the one thing in her life she had not finished…getting a college degree. Dr. Shaffer asked her how that was going for her. She was excited and having fun. Dr. Shaffer asked if it was difficult. She said that the subjects were ones she enjoyed, But- and it was a big “but”- she was finding it very hard keeping up with the younger kids and that really put her under a great deal of stress. Dr. Shaffer explained that the mind, especially during the night, will help you try to get rid of the stress. Your mind finds a small bump, a tooth that is just out of alignment, or a new filling that just doesn’t fit like the tooth did before the filling, or something else to concentrate on. Then it simply tries to grind it away. But this causes the jaw to move just outside of its normal movements. This can cause sudden muscle pain and headaches, and can even do damage to the joint over a long period of time.
Dr. Shaffer has treated thousands of patients who suffer from TMD and offers a number of options for alleviating pain. If the TMD is severe enough, you may need surgery. This is normally reserved to correct abnormalities or conditions that are degenerative, that is conditions that don’t respond to treatment in other ways. If this is the case, you would be referred to a maxillo-facial surgeon to further diagnose and treat with surgery.
Other, less severe cases, can be treated by a simple device called a bite appliance or bite guard. This is normally made by taking a custom impression and a bite registration (recording how you bite). Dr. Shaffer sends the impression to the laboratory where casts are made and a bite appliance is made to fit only your teeth.
What comes back is a hard, impact-resistant plastic plane with a soft inner lining. This flat plane fits over either your upper or lower arch of teeth, and Dr. Shaffer grinds the guard until you feel no bumps but only a flat surface. With this device, when you are asleep at night, your mind will try to find something else to relieve your stress as opposed to grinding the teeth. As a result, your muscles should no longer feel sore, headaches should go away, and you should be better rested for your day.
For patients who grind their teeth during the day, Dr. Shaffer suggests a clear appliance for you that can be worn day and night. This boasts the same benefits as a night guard.
Schedule a Consultation Today
If you have sore jaw muscles, persistent headaches or if you keep your significant other awake because they hear you grinding your teeth, call Robin to make an appointment at Alon Dental Care. Dr. Shaffer can provide relief from TMD, so you can enjoy a healthy, pain-free smile.