Dental Care 101: Everything You Need to Know About the TMJ

Dental Care 101: Everything You Need to Know About the TMJ

There are many causes for severe headaches and migraines, but one common yet overlooked source is a problem with the temporomandibular joint or TMJ. This is typically experienced as a pain originating from the jaw that extends to the head, causing severe headaches. If you have felt this kind of pain before and it keeps persisting, then learning what you can will prepare you for the right questions when you visit a dentist near you for treatment. 

What is TMJ Disorder and What Causes It? 

The temporomandibular joint is found at the base of either side of the skull, where your head and jaw meet. It’s easier to understand as the part of the jaw that acts as a hinge for your mouth to open or close and for the jaw to slide forward and backward. This joint connects the upper jaw or maxilla, and the lower jaw called the mandible. 

The TMJ isn’t like any other joint; it’s unique due to its horseshoe-shaped hinge and a disc-like structure composed of cartilage situated between your two bones. It is connected to several muscle groups, all of which are required for the jaw to operate correctly, explaining why it can easily cause headaches and highlighting how difficult it is to pinpoint it as the source. 

The causes of TMJ disorders are often difficult to identify since it is due to several factors, typically genetics, a history of jaw injury, or even stress. Those who tend to clench or grind their teeth may also be at risk for setting off TMJ pain. Visiting your family dentist in Ontario can help you determine the exact cause for your case.

Making a Diagnosis for TMJ Disorders

TMJ pains are a difficult disorder to diagnose because many patients and professionals are basing it off a very common symptom: pain and discomfort in the jaw area. To ensure correct diagnosis, good communication is needed between doctors and their patients! The clearer and more accurate the description of pain is, the more likely a medical professional will be able to identify the symptoms for your case. These include but are not limited to:

  • Severe jaw pain, particularly when the jaw is being used;
  • Tenderness in the jaw area;
  • Pain around the ear;
  • Headaches and facial pains; and
  • Lockjaw and clicking or popping noises.

Not all symptoms of TMJ disorders will include pain, clicking, popping, or grinding. In fact, there can even still be a diagnosis despite the absence of discomfort in the patient!

Options for Treatment

Because it is a tricky diagnosis, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) has identified that the best treatments for TMJ disorders are to limit treatment entirely. This includes at-home care measures, such as avoiding excess use of the jaw, eating softer food, and using ice or heat packs. Patients can take effective over-the-counter medications to address the pain, which will also help bring down the inflammation in the jaw area. 

Tools can also be used to protect your teeth and jaw during sleep, particularly for those prone to teeth grinding. Oral splints and mouth guards are typically used and can be purchased at most pharmacies. 

Though it is an option, NIDCR does not recommend pursuing surgical procedures to treat them. If oral surgeons and dentists recommend TMJ surgery, then it is essential to get second and third opinions as to whether the risks are worth taking. 

The Bottom Line: Seeing a Dentist for TMJ Disorders

Preventing TMJ disorders is best done by maintaining good dental habits, including bi-annual visits to the dentist and keeping up good oral health with regular flossing and brushing to mitigate other issues. While these can show up and cause plenty of discomfort, doing everything you can to relax the jaw, keep your teeth and gums healthy, and consulting your dentist will allow it to go away in time!

Finding good dentistry services in Markham is essential for the treatment of conditions like TMJ disorders. Here at Nasser Dentistry, we offer a wide range of dental services for both children and adults with personalized care and treatment. To book an appointment, contact us today!