Temporomandibular Disorder and How To Treat It - Hardy Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics

Temporomandibular Disorder and How To Treat It

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Published on April 5, 2019, Updated on April 5, 2019

Dentist pointing at the temporomandibular joint on a fake skull

Many patients may suffer from temporomandibular joint disorder during their lifetime, and it can negatively affect the joints, nerves, and jaw movement in the mouth. TMJ is the joint that connects the jawbone to your skull, and when that hinge mechanism hasn’t developed properly, you can experience intense pain. Many times, a retainer is inserted to reposition the joint, but sometimes other orthodontic appliances are needed, depending on the severity. Learn how to recognize if you have TMJ and what choices you have to improve your oral health with this guide!


What Is TMJ?

Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, or TMJ for short, refers to the hinge connecting the upper and lower jaw together that doesn’t function properly. Although the name isn’t one that many patients are familiar with, the pain associated with the disorder is hard to forget. The temporomandibular joint is responsible for moving the lower jaw forward, backward, and side-to-side, and any complications with these movements can cause a popping or clicking sensation whenever the jaw gets stuck. Any issue that prevents bones, ligaments, and joints from moving properly in the mouth and jaw is considered TMJ, and it is a lot more common than you would think. More than 15% of American adults suffer from chronic facial pain, like headaches and earaches, while over 10 million Americans are affected by TMJ-related issues, such as joint pain.  Although it is sometimes difficult to diagnose TMJ, it is important that patients understand what symptoms are involved with this disorder to receive the correct treatment for it.


Common SymptomsWoman holding her jaw in pain

TMJ has a number of different symptoms that can appear throughout your lifetime, which is one reason why it can be so difficult to properly diagnose. Many times your dentist will need to perform X-rays to examine your teeth and jaw, CT scan to view the bones involved in the joint, or an MRI to reveal any problems with the joint’s surrounding soft tissue. Some of the most common symptoms of TMJ include:


  • Headaches (to the point of migraines), earaches, and pain pressure behind the eyes
  • Clicking or popping sounds when you open and close your mouth
  • Jaws that “get stuck” or locked easily
  • Tenderness in the jaw muscles
  • A change in the way the upper and lower jaw meet each other
  • Pain when yawning or chewing


More often than not, multiple symptoms can occur together, causing even more pain and discomfort during daily activities. For this reason, it is important to meet with a dental professional so that he/she can correctly diagnose your symptoms and begin treatment. Although the symptoms of TMJ can be a strong sign of what’s going on, the reason behind the misalignment of the temporomandibular joint is still unknown, and many times impossible to determine.


Treatment Options

Before any treatment can begin, a dental professional will need to evaluate the joint tissue in the hinge of the jaw to determine any irregularities. Possible causes for your TMJ symptoms can include swelling or deterioration/damage of the joint tissue. Common pain relievers and anti-inflammatories can be administered to provide temporary relief, but ultimately some form of treatment will need to be completed to restore proper function to the jaw. More serious cases of TMJ will require the use of a mouthguard, bite guard, or splint to prevent teeth grinding when you sleep, and these are custom fit to your mouth to keep your upper teeth from grinding against the lower teeth. Physical therapy is sometimes recommended to help stretch and strengthen jaw muscles, and counseling has proved effective with some patients to help them understand the factors that are aggravating their pain while teaching them how to relax.


When other methods don’t help, other procedures can be performed that involve injections and surgery. Arthrocentesis involves inserting small needles into the joint to irrigate fluid within the joint to remove any debris or inflammatory by-products. A modified condylotomy can address the TMJ indirectly by performing surgery on the mandible, rather than the joint, and helps with pain while preventing locking that TMJ is known for. Sometimes open-joint surgery is necessary if the joint cannot heal on its own due to a structural problem within the joint, but this procedure carries some risk that needs to be discussed with your dentist before taking this route.


Schedule A Consultation

If you or your child is experiencing pain in the jaw or popping/clicking noises when chewing, schedule a consultation with Hardy Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics at (720) 887-6003 to get evaluated for TMJ and begin a treatment plan. Your oral health is important to us, and our team of experienced professionals is dedicated to helping you and your family achieve the healthy smiles that you deserve!