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Temporomandibular Joint Disorder

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What Is TMD And How Is It Treated?

Chronic jaw pain may seem like an insignificant problem to those who aren’t personally dealing with it day in and day out, but sufferers of what is known as temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder — also called TMD by medical practitioners — know exactly how consuming it can be. Sleepless nights, constant pain that makes concentrating difficult, and issues with speaking and swallowing are all significant side effects of TMD.

What can you do if you believe you are being affected by temporomandibular joint disorder? Fortunately, there is a growing network of experts around the country who are specially trained to diagnose and treat this often-debilitating condition. With access to new and improved techniques that have been developed over the years through exhaustive research and implementation, these experts make it easier than ever to find the right kind of treatment for TMD.

Charlotte Progressive Dentistry is proud to be part of this network. With Dr. Susana Junco, we can now offer an even more effective treatment regimen for patients who need help with temporomandibular joint disorder

What Is The Temporomandibular Joint?

Your lower jaw (the mandible) is able to open and close because it is connected to a complex series of ligaments right below your cheekbones. These ligaments, which connect the mandible to the lower part of the skull, allow movement to take place and prevent your jaw from popping out. The temporomandibular joint itself is actually made up of two cartilage-covered bone points at the top of the mandible — these points are connected to the ligaments and are necessary for preventing your jaw from opening and closing at unnatural angles. In addition to the joints, there is a small shock-absorbing “articular disc” (also made of cartilage) that helps minimize damage from sudden movement.

When stressors such as physical damage, unusual movement, or excessive pressure are put on the temporomandibular joint, it will cause the TMJ to rub against the bottom of the lower skull and the nerves located there, resulting in pain and swelling. If the pain and swelling do not heal on their own or are left untreated to become chronic, it can result in a case of TMD.

How Does TMD Develop?

There is no single cause for TMD. It can develop from a jaw injury or arthritis, and can even be due to genetics in some people. Oftentimes, it can be difficult for untrained practitioners to properly diagnose a case of TMD, which can lead to improper procedures and even unnecessary surgeries.

In clear cases, painful TMJ disorders can develop when:

  • The articular disc erodes or moves out of alignment
  • The temporomandibular joint is damaged by a blow or other impact
  • The joint’s cartilage is damaged by arthritis
  • Missing teeth cause an imbalance in your jawline, affecting movement

It is important for anyone who has persistent pain or tenderness in their jaw or cheekbones to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Even if the discomfort you are feeling is minimal, it can signal a larger issue well on its way to escalating into a much more serious problem.

Symptoms of TMD

You may be suffering from TMD if you’re experiencing certain symptoms.

By themselves, any one of these symptoms could indicate a separate health issue unrelated to TMD. With all of them together, however, there is a very good chance that you may be suffering from temporomandibular joint disorder. If you are experiencing one or more of these signs, it is critical that you schedule an appointment with your dentist to have them investigate and diagnose the symptoms. When it comes to chronic pain, better safe than sorry!

There are minor symptoms too, which may not be obvious and can take place over the course of years. Recent research has shown that teeth grinding (also known as bruxism) can often be related to TMJ disorder, as a symptom and even a direct cause in some cases. Not everyone who grinds their teeth habitually is at risk for developing TMD, but it is advisable for those with bruxism to consult with a dentist for further advice as to whether treatment aimed at preventing TMD may be a good step to take. 

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Available Treatments

If you’ve been diagnosed with TMD, there are several options for treatment depending on the severity and the origin of the disorder. For those showing minimal symptoms, sometimes all it takes to manage their condition is an occasional dose of over-the-counter medication to relieve the pain and discomfort. For those cases where TMD may be starting to affect everyday living, relief can often be achieved by engaging in relaxation techniques — such as physical therapy or massage, for example — that loosen the jaw and keep it malleable.

In more extreme situations, a doctor or TMJ specialist may prescribe painkillers or muscle relaxants to regulate pain, or anti-anxiety drugs to reduce stress. Dental work may also be suggested, which can range from replacing missing teeth, to adding crowns or braces to balance the jawline. For those cases where medication or dental work won’t help, oral surgery or therapeutic injections may have to be performed in order to fix the worst damage. 

For many people suffering from TMJ joint disorder, the most effective way to minimize or eradicate it is by using a specially-designed orthopedic appliance that takes the pressure off of the temporomandibular joint and allows it to heal over time.

Unlike mouthguards, which are made to treat unrelated mouth or jaw pain, TMJ orthopedic appliances are a relatively new technology that have been designed to exclusively target and treat the causes of TMD. Patients receive a custom-made device that will:

  • Relieve pressure from inflamed joints
  • Separate the upper and lower sets of teeth to stop grinding
  • Prevent movement of the tongue, minimizing aggravation
  • Reduce long-term pain

An orthopedic appliance is a safe and efficient way to treat moderate to severe cases of temporomandibular joint disorder. For more information or advice on these devices, schedule an appointment with your local dentist.

You Can Find Relief from TMD

At Charlotte Progressive Dentistry, we’re dedicated to helping sufferers of TMD get relief from the pain and aggravation that comes with it. Doctor Susana Junco, DMD recently graduated from a mini residency in orofacial pain, and has greatly expanded the treatment options available to our patients. If you are experiencing pain, migraines, ear ringing, or vertigo that may be related to a TMJ disorder, we can diagnose and treat your symptoms with state-of-the-art orthopedic devices created especially for your situation.

Contact Charlotte Progressive Dentistry using the form below, and we’ll get you started on the path to a pain-free life.

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