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TMJ and Facial Pain

If you suffer from temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain or dysfunction, you are not alone! It is estimated that more than 35 million Americans suffer from TMJ disorders, and as many as 75% of Americans have experienced the signs and symptoms of TMJ problems at one time. Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMD), commonly referred to as "TMJ," is a complex set of conditions that cause pain and dysfunction in the jaw joint and the surrounding muscles that control jaw movement. While both men and women experience these disorders, the majority of those seeking treatment are women in their childbearing years. Women also tend to have more severe symptoms than men.

At the Kurpis Center for Advanced Dentistry, we can help alleviate the pain and dysfunction associated with TMJ disorders. You do not have to suffer any longer! Call us today to schedule a TMJ evaluation and to begin treatment.

What is the temporomandibular joint (TMJ)?
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a socket joint that connects the lower jaw (mandible) to the temporal bone of the skull. This socket joint allows the lower jaw to open, close, and move sideways when speaking, chewing, and yawning. Each individual has two temporomandibular joints, one on either side of the head located about one centimeter in front of the ears. If you place your fingers directly in front of your ears and open your mouth, you can feel your joints. TMJ complications are not limited to the joints; in fact, it is the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that enable the joint to move that are usually the source of pain and dysfunction.


Location of the Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ)

The temporomandibular joint is one of the most complicated joints in the body. It is both a hinge and a gliding joint, meaning that it opens and closes like a hinge and also slides forward, backward, and side to side. It is also the most constantly used joint in the body. When we open our mouths, the rounded ends of the lower jaw, called the condyles, glide along the joint socket of the temporal bone. Between each condyle and socket is a soft disc made of cartilage. These discs act as cushions to absorb stress and allow the condyles to move easily when the mouth opens and closes.


The Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ)

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What are TMJ disorders?
Temporomandibular joint disorders, or TMD, are complex and poorly understood conditions of the jaw joint and muscles that control jaw movement. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders fall into three main categories:
  1. Myofascial pain, the most common temporomandibular disorder, involves pain or discomfort in the muscles that control jaw function
  2. Internal derangement of the joint involves a displaced disc, dislocated jaw, or injury to the condyle
  3. Arthritis refers to a group of degenerative and/or inflammatory joint disorders that can affect the temporomandibular joint
An individual suffering from temporomandibular joint disorders may have one or more of these conditions simultaneously.  Researchers have also found that many people with TMD often have other painful and debilitating conditions of the body, prompting studies in search of a common factor underlying these disorders.  Among these co-morbid conditions are chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic headaches, fibromyalgia, sleep disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, endometriosis, and others.
People who have a rheumatic disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, may also develop a TMJ disorder as a secondary condition. Rheumatic diseases cause pain, stiffness, and inflammation in the joints, muscles, and bone. While both rheumatoid arthritis and TMJ disorders involve inflammation of the joint tissues, the exact relationship between these conditions remains unknown.
It is unclear how temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders progress. Symptoms may worsen or ease over time, sometimes even disappearing spontaneously. For some people, symptoms improve significantly or even resolve completely within weeks or months. For others, the condition causes long-term, persistent, and debilitating pain and dysfunction. The reason for this is still unknown.
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What causes TMJ disorders?
The source of most TMJ disorders is idiopathic, or unknown. Researchers simply do not know the exact cause of the majority of temporomandibular joint and muscle problems. Some TMJ problems arise as a result of osteoarthritis in the joint itself or from trauma to the jaw or joint. Most TMJ disorders, however, begin for no apparent reason. Since these conditions are more common among women than men, scientists are exploring a possible link between female hormones and TMJ disorders.
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Signs and Symptoms of TMJ Disorders
Pain is the main symptom of temporomandibular joint disorders. It is often described as a dull, aching pain in the jaw joint and surrounding areas which comes and goes. Some people, however, have no pain but still have jaw dysfunction.

Symptoms of TMD can include:

  • Pain in the jaw joint or chewing muscles
  • Radiating pain in the face, jaw, neck, or shoulders
  • Jaw muscle stiffness
  • Limited movement or locking of the jaw
  • Chronic headaches
  • Ear pain or pressure
  • Painful clicking, popping or grating in the jaw joint when opening or closing the mouth
  • A change in the way the upper and lower teeth fit together, or a feeling that the bite is “off”

Popping or clicking noises in the jaw joint, unaccompanied by pain or decreased mobility, do not mean you have a TMJ problem. 
Occassional discomfort in the jaw joint or chewing muscles is common and may not indicate a problem with the TMJ.  However, if the pain is severe or lasts for more than a few weeks, it is time to seek treatment at the Kurpis Center for Advanced Dentistry.

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Why we are different & how we can help you
At the Kurpis Center for Advanced Dentistry, we approach the treatment of TMJ disorders differently from most dental offices. We understand TMD and have a conservative treatment approach that many patients benefit from greatly. We are also aware that TMD can be confused with other painful disorders such as neuralgias, neoplasms, vascular disorders, otic problems, dental pathology, and others. We don't group all facial pain disorders into the "TMJ" category. We look into other possible causes of facial pain and have the ability to distinguish between the different pain disorders. We have the tools and knowledge necessary to make a proper differential diagnosis and to treat our patients, or refer if necessary.
Once you have been evaluated by one of our dentists and a diagnosis of TMD has been confirmed, we will begin treating your TMJ symptoms. We believe in conservative, reversible, and non-surgical treatment of TMJ disorders and facial pain. Our treatments do not involve changing your bite or invading any tissues of the face or jaw. Conservative approaches are the first line of treatment and patients usually respond well to them. Jaw exercises are taught, and anti-inflammatory medications or muscle relaxants are often recommended. Daily self-care tips are encouraged and these simple practices can greatly ease the symptoms of TMD. Stress management techniques or physical therapy may also be recommended.
A nightguard, or stabilization splint, is widely used in the treatment of TMJ disorders. This horseshoe shaped plastic appliance, usually worn at night, fits over the teeth and keeps the upper and lower teeth separated. It prevents the teeth from locking together, thereby relaxing the muscles and relieving much of the force placed on the teeth and joints.

Patient fitted for nightguard
We also understand how difficult it can be to undergo dental treatment if you suffer from TMD or any chronic pain disorder of the head and neck. We take your painful condition into consideration when performing dental procedures and pay special attention to your needs. We allow for rest periods during treatment, we offer premedication to alleviate pain, and we have different levels of sedation to ease anxiety and discomfort if needed.
Many patients report significant pain relief and improved function with these conservative treatments for TMD. Do not suffer with pain or dysfunction any longer. Call 201-447-9700 for a TMJ evaluation and to begin treating your TMJ symptoms.
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