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Cushioning these two bones is a thin disc of cartilage. So when there’s an imbalance in the bones, muscles and cartilage it can result in a myriad of symptoms including headaches, neck and ear aches, difficulty in opening or closing the jaw, a clicking or a popping in the joint, a dull aching pain around the ear that spreads into the face and tender or painful jaw muscles. Other symptoms to look out for are teeth clenching and grinding – both a cause and a symptom – numbness in your fingers and toes, vertigo and undiagnosable tooth pain. Any problem that prevents this complex system of muscles, ligaments, discs and bones from properly working together may result in a painful TMJ disorder.
Several conditions can be related to TMJ disorders. They can be quite varied and often difficult to pinpoint, but in general it’s the muscles or joint of your jaw that are affected – usually involving the joint, ligaments and muscles used for chewing and grinding food. TMJ syndrom is usually caused by grinding or clenching your teeth, a bad bite caused by missing teeth or badly aligned teeth, a blow to the joint, the onset of arthritis, an injury to the muscles allowing the joints to move and stress, particularly emotional stress. TMJ affects women of childbearing age and older men and women.
Your dentist can identify the source of the pain with an exam and an x-ray and will advise on the best way to treat your TMJ problem. Treatment options may include crowning teeth, filling the gaps, adjusting the bite or even moving your teeth with orthodontic treatment to restore balance and harmony to the joint. You can also ease TMJ symptoms by making some lifestyle changes such as engaging in stress reducing exercises, taking muscle relaxants or wearing a splint, which is a plastic mouthpiece to prevent teeth clenching and grinding.
Dr Jon Ryder is a restorative dentist and also an Adjunct Professor for Restorative Dentistry at the University of Iowa. A fellow of the International Congress of Oral Implantologists, his expertise includes full mouth rehabilitation, implant surgery and prosthodontics, periodontal surgery and oral pathology.