Your temporomandibular joints (TMJs) are located on either side of your face, right in front of your ears. These small joints connect your lower jaw to your skull and move when you talk, chew, yawn or swallow.
Unbalanced TMJs can lead to a functional issue. This is called a temporomandibular joint disorder.
What causes TMJ disorders?
TMJ disorders are often caused by several factors. Stress and psychological tension can contribute to TMJ disorders because they cause you to clench your jaw.
Common risk factors include:
- Tooth grinding (bruxism), which patients usually do unconsciously
- Malocclusion, as a poorly aligned or uneven bite can cause joint problems
- Trauma to the face, jaw or neck
- Hereditary factors or growth problems
- Certain pathologies, such as arthritis
- Bad habits, such as biting your nails or chewing on pencils
What are the symptoms of TMJ disorders?
Some symptoms are telltale signs of a TMJ disorder. They can be very uncomfortable and even cause debilitating pain.
TMJ disorders typically cause one or several of the following symptoms:
- Trouble opening the mouth wide to eat or yawn
- Cracking, grinding or other dry sounds when you eat or yawn
- Headaches similar to migraines
- Tinnitus or earaches
- Facial pain
- Stiff neck or shoulders
How are TMJ disorders treated?
TMJ disorders sometimes go away on their own within a few months. However, some patients require professional attention to help them manage the discomfort.
Various treatment options are available, though most involve relaxing the joint and changing your eating habits. For example, your dentist may recommend:
- Wearing a bite plate
- Adjusting your occlusion
- Attending relaxation classes
- Getting massages or doing exercises to relax your TMJ joints, face, neck and shoulders
- Consulting a physiotherapist, osteopath, acupuncturist or other specialist
- Avoiding hard or sticky foods, including chewing gum
- Applying compresses
A bite plate is a dental device that reduces facial muscle tension and ensures that bite pressure is distributed evenly across all your teeth.
A custom tray is made based on digital impressions so that it fits your dental arch snugly. Bite plates absorb pressure; they do not apply pressure to shift your teeth.
A unique bite plate is made for every patient. Different models and materials are available to suit your specific needs. Some patients wear a bite plate on their lower teeth, while others have one for the upper arch only.
Night guards, tooth grinding and malocclusion
Tooth grinding, also known as bruxism, can be harmful to your teeth. The friction can cause teeth to wear prematurely and become sensitive, loose and prone to cracks.
Clenching and grinding can put hundreds of pounds of pressure on your teeth and gums. A bite plate can absorb that pressure and protect your oral health.
Malocclusion causes a lack of coordination between your jaw joints. Using a bite plate can help “reprogram” your joints and alleviate discomfort.
Tell your dentist if your jaw hurts, cracks or locks, or if you have recurring headaches. Your TMJ joints might be the problem.