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Are you suffering from headaches, jaw pain, ringing in the ears, or other symptoms your doctor can’t explain or treat? Do you have migraines, but none of your migraine medication seems effective? Are your symptoms getting worse? If so, then you should talk to a New City dentist about TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorders), which starts as a problem in your jaw, but can be linked to symptoms throughout the body. Fortunately, TMJ can be treated noninvasively without drugs, and many people can get relief who thought they had to live with their symptoms for life.
You don’t have to live with TMJ symptoms: there are treatment options that can get you rapid, lasting relief without drugs and without surgery.
TMJ symptoms are so variable that the condition is sometimes described as “the great imposter.” It’s commonly misdiagnosed as many other health problems, or the symptoms are diagnosed individually without realizing that they’re all linked.
Some of the more common TMJ symptoms include:
- Jaw pain
- Headaches (including tension headaches and migraines)
- Face pain
- Jaw sounds
- Locking jaw or irregular jaw motion
- Tooth wear, chipped teeth, or broken teeth
- Ear pain or fullness
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Neck pain
- Back pain
- Tingling and numbness in the fingers
Many people (and even doctors) have a hard time believing that all these symptoms are linked to jaw dysfunction, but it’s easy to see how they’re all connected. TMJ causes the jaw to be out of place, which forces jaw muscles to work excessively because they can’t find a comfortable resting position. This excessive tension leads to pain the jaw and in muscles that partner with jaw muscles, including neck muscles and back muscles.
The overactive jaw muscles are constantly putting pressure on the teeth, leading to tooth wear and damage.
A displaced jaw can also put pressure on nerves in the area, such as the trigeminal nerve, a trigger point for migraines. Nerve pressure may be partly responsible for ear-related symptoms, or it may be the pressure on the temporal bone, which houses the delicate components of the inner ear.
Jaw sounds and jaw locking are related to the displaced cushioning disc that sits between the two bones of the joint. When the disc slips in and out of place, it can cause sounds, and when it can’t slip back into place, it can cause the jaw to lock.
Tingling and numbness in the fingers can be caused by pressure on nerves as they exit the spine or chest. When the jaw is out of alignment, it can lead to misalignment of the neck, spine, and collarbone, constricting some of these openings.
Fortunately, treating TMJ can resolve all or most of the symptoms associated with the condition. Noninvasive treatment is the best, and it’s often best to start with home care for your TMJ.
If you are experiencing TMJ symptoms, you can try some of the following care steps:
- Temporarily switch to a soft diet
- Avoid chewing on non-food objects (including ice)
- Try applying heat to sore muscles and ice to sore and swollen joints
- Take over-the-counter pain medication, especially ibuprofen or naproxen
- Try to control stress and use your jaw less
But it’s important to know when to seek professional care. If your symptoms worsen, or if you have pain that doesn’t respond to over-the-counter medications, it’s time to talk to a doctor or dentist. And if your symptoms persist for more than seven days of home care, it’s also time to talk to a doctor.
For TMJ treatment, we may refer you to our partner office at River Edge Dental, although many cases can be treated right here. TMJ treatment often begins with TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation), a kind of electric massage. This can relax your jaw muscles, and for many people this is all the treatment necessary.
Often, though, we need to make sure your jaw can hold itself in a proper relaxed position. This may mean the use of an oral appliance that you wear to help your jaw stay in place. You may be asked to wear the appliance all day at first, though eventually you’ll be able to cut back to just overnight wear.
If you like your results, but don’t like your appliance, we can build up your teeth so they hold your jaw in place without the need for an appliance.
However, if you wait too long before getting treatment, your jaw may have developed too much damage for nonsurgical treatment. Surgery may be necessary to treat your TMJ.