TMJ disorders can often result in pain in the jaw, ear, radiating to the head, face, and neck. The TMJ is made up of muscles, blood vessels, nerves, and bones. All of us have a Temporomandibular joint on each side of our jaw, located in front of the ear, which helps us open and close the mouth. Certain facial muscles control chewing, yawning and the opening and closing of the mouth. Sometimes these joints do not function properly, which can be caused by teeth grinding (bruxism), stress, osteoarthritis, jaw injury, malocclusion (misaligned bite), or bad posture. Problems with these joints can be treated with an NTI which is a small acrylic appliance, or dental mouthpiece to be worn at night or in the daytime. It is customized to your mouth and your individual needs in as little as 1-2 office visits. By preventing your back teeth from touching each other in the upper and lower jaw, or grinding (mostly at night) we can alleviate the adverse side effects of teeth clenching. With prolonged clenching and grinding of teeth, individuals can suffer from severe headaches, stiff necks and eventually your tooth structure is worn away leading to teeth sensitivity, cracks and fractures in teeth. Bruxism is the unconscious act of clenching the jaws and grinding the teeth, and it mostly occurs during sleep and patients are unaware of it. Most people learn about their bruxism when someone else, usually a spouse or a parent hears the grinding noises and points it out to them. Bruxism can be both a cause and a side effect of TMJ disorder, and the chronic grinding can lead to pain radiating in the jaws and head, as well as tooth wear, tooth breakage, gum disease, jawbone damage, and tooth loss. This condition is most often caused by malocclusion, stress, anxiety, certain psychiatric medications, and health conditions such as Parkinson’s or Huntington’s disease.
To treat TMJ disorder and bruxism, dentists at our office will fit you with a custom oral splint or night guard as a first step which is the most conservative approach. After determining your jaw’s ideal position, your dentist will create a splint that holds it there and can actually reprogram it to stay in this new, relaxed position to relieve the stress of the TMJ, muscles and the teeth. Night guards for bruxism provide a cushioning between upper and lower teeth to help prevent grinding protecting your teeth from damage. If your teeth are already worn, damaged or chipped from bruxism, they may not meet properly when you bite, which will only make your bruxism, pain or TMJ dysfunction worse. In these cases, the dentists at our office can adjust your occlusion and your bite, rebuilding the tooth structure with crowns or veneers, creating an ideal bite to relieve the discomfort and relax the jaw If teeth or jaws are severely misaligned, we may refer you to an orthodontist or oral surgeon to correct the underlying cause of the bruxism or TMJ disorder.