by Jeffrey I. Goldberg DDS PLLC
TMJ is typically used to describe pain or dysfunction in the temporomandibular joint, where the lower jaw connects to the skull directly in front of the ear and affects twice as many women as men. TMJ disorders can include a range of problems affecting that area, and you may hear people use TMJ to describe headaches, dental problems, as well as neck pain. It is helpful to think of TMJ disorders (sometimes referred to as TMD) like back pain because thereare many kinds of back pain, from many different causes, and not everybody should have the same treatment.
Some TMJ conditions are chronic, often relating to habits like clenching the teeth, while others are acute, resulting from an injury. While pain is the most common reason people seek treatment, other typical symptoms related to the jaw, including movement, inability to close normally, clicking and popping, changes in bite, and tension-type headaches. Often ringing in the ears is related to TMJ and responds well to TMJ treatments. When evaluating a patient for TMJ it is important to consider what is happening elsewhere in the body, as the TMJ issue may be part of something more systemic, such as arthritis or fibromyalgia.
Diagnosing and treating TMJ problems involves a combination of neurology, orthopedics, psychology, physical therapy, and dentistry. While chiropractors, physical therapists, and medical doctors may all be involved in treatment, TMJ is traditionally managed by dentists. The University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine has one of the very few post-graduate programs in the nation training dentists in the specialized area of TMJ/TMD and orofacial pain. Unusual or complex cases are referred to professionals with this type of advanced training, as well as such conditions involving headaches, trigeminal neuralgia, and burning mouth syndrome.
Treatment for TMJ or TMD should start out conservativly. Rarely is surgery or dental work necessary, and typically only after other therapies have been explored. Occlusal appliances or night guards are often part of the treatment and are custom made by a dentist to perfectly fit the teeth. Physical therapy, including technologies such as cold laser and ultrasound, as well as medication and injections may also be indicated. It is important for patients diagnosed with TMJ to be involved with home exercises, and to avoid things that aggravate the condition, such as stress. As with back pain, jaw pain usually improves by making changes to take strain off of the joints and allowing the body to heal.
If you are waking with pain at the sides of your face, feeling like your jaw is not moving properly, or getting headaches in the temples, speak to your dentist about TMJ. He or she can help determine the nature of the problem and provide some therapy options to help you feel better and prevent long-term complications.
Jeffrey I. Goldberg DDS PLLC is a dentist who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of facial pain/TMJ, sleep apnea appliance therapy, and general dentistry. Call 716- 636-2222 or visit www.facialpainandapnea.com.