The joint on either side of the jaw is called the TEMPOROMANDIBULAR JOINT, usually called TMJ for short.
When there is inflammation, pain, or damage to the joints, it is called Temporomandibular Dysfunction, or TMD. San Francisco dentist Dr. Susie Shin D.D.S., M.A.G.D. has completed training at the Seattle Dental Institution, specializing in occlusion and cosmetic dentistry. She has helped many patients with TMJ treatments.
TMD can be caused by unintentionally clenching or grinding your teeth, teeth that are not aligned properly, and injury. Some patients unconsciously grind their teeth in their sleep. Most people are completely unaware they are doing this! Our jaw muscles are capable of exerting far more strength while we are asleep than when we are awake. Even just a few seconds of clenching or grinding on a regular basis can cause straining and overuse of the jaw muscles, ligaments, and damage the teeth.
Patients also may be unintentionally clenching their teeth in the daytime. If you find that your upper and lower teeth are touching, you are clenching. In a relaxed, non-tense state, the jaw is open and upper and lower teeth do not touch. Bringing the lower jaw upwards to close it “activates” the muscle, causing it to be constantly flexed. After being flexed for an extended period of time, the muscle is tired and cramping, causing it to hurt. Since this is done while you are awake, consciously relaxing, massaging and stretching your jaw can help.
Besides jaw pain, other TMD symptoms are frequent headaches, earaches, neck pain, facial pain, tooth sensitivity, tooth breakage, and chipping. The symptoms can sometimes be alleviated with anti-inflammatories, jaw massages, and hot and cold compresses. The relief is often temporary since the clenching and grinding is a chronic subconscious behavior.
The damage caused to the teeth is usually permanent and requires other dental procedures to fix. The best way to prevent the damage is to address the cause. For people who clench and grind at night, wearing a custom-made night guard is often the solution. A night guard is made of hard plastic that separates your upper and lower teeth while you sleep, preventing them from wearing on each other. The night guard also separates the jaws enough to prevent you from being able to exert as much force with your jaw muscles.
Talk with Dr. Shin today about TMJ treatment options to help preserve your beautiful smile!