Treating TMJ Issues
Most cases of TMJ disorders can be treated conservatively and successfully. The first step is to eliminate the pain and muscle spasms. In mild cases, such as yours, this can be done with moist heat packs, a non-chewy diet, and muscle relaxants (if necessary).
The next step would be to try and become aware of the potential sources of stress and tension that could lead to clenching and grinding. A device that may work well for you is a corrective bite plate, that will help to relax the muscles, thus preventing headaches, pain, and spasm. Selective filing of an uneven bite to correct the “high” spots is a final attempt to treat TMJ conservatively, because the removal of tooth structure is an irreversible process.
In a small percent of patients, surgery may be the final and most appropriate treatment option.
Dental Night Guard
A dental night guard is a multipurpose solution to dental problems. The first step in treating TMJ disorder is for Dr. Lazare to create a custom-fitting night guard, also called an occlusal splint or a bite guard. This is used to prevent the impacted and patterned movement of the teeth during sleep. While some patients may also grind their teeth during the day, they usually notice this habit and can stop it from occurring. When sleeping, it is not possible to monitor jaw movements.
Tooth grinding causes wear and tear on both the temporomandibular joint and the teeth. Chronic movement affects many aspects of dental health. A muscle relaxation appliance helps prevent enamel wear and associated discoloration, as well as cracked or broken teeth that can cause sensitivity and pain.
A night guard doubles as a protective retainer. In orthodontic patients who have undergone Invisalign treatment and wish to maintain their results, a night guard can serve as a retainer if the material is hard. This preserves the new bite created by the Invisalign aligners and protects the teeth against any unintentional damage. In these cases, upper and lower retainers may be created. Most patients fitted for mouth guards will wear the protective dental piece on the upper teeth only, or in fewer cases, the lower teeth only.
While over-the-counter pain medications can offer temporary relief of the symptoms caused by TMD, they will not prevent harmful future movements of the jaw. Nonsurgical medical intervention may be more appropriate and can consist of muscle relaxers or steroid injections to control inflammation in the joint. If arthritis or other diseases cause jaw problems, these medical issues should be addressed with medication and other therapies. Jaw exercise may also help when paired with other treatments.
A misaligned bite can cause or exacerbate TMD but can easily be treated with Invisalign. These discreet dental braces are fitted over the teeth in a series of trays to gradually shift the teeth into the desired position. During treatment, the bite is redesigned so the upper and lower jaws fit together correctly.
Invisalign can successfully correct issues like crowding, tooth rotation, and gaps between the teeth. When the teeth are realigned, the TMJ can also move back into its proper position. The newly aligned jaws will typically function far better in their correct locations.
Another approach to treating TMD is through dental procedures, since the shape of the teeth and how they fit together directly affects the jaw structure. In patients with teeth that do not properly align and create uneven wear in the jaw, Dr. Lazare may be able to restore normal function by adding tooth bonding or indirect restorations or removing interferences from the teeth. These treatments reshape the teeth for a better overall fit of the jaws and permitting more normal function.
Some people find relief from their TMJ disorder symptoms by using thermal therapies. A hot or cold compress can relax area muscles while combatting inflammation. Dr. Lazare may advise his patients to perform different facial exercises or limit the movement of the jaw to control pain. Patients can prevent additional wear of the jaw by eating softer foods and refraining from chewing gum or their fingernails.
Alternative TMD treatments may include acupuncture, acupressure, and chiropractic and herbal solutions. These can also serve as an adjunct to traditional therapies, and in addition to night guard use.
Because stress is a main factor in nighttime jaw activity that leads to TMD, Dr. Lazare may also suggest ways to reduce mental tension. Common ways to calm the mind are exercise and meditation. Patients may also benefit from treatment with a mental health professional if they are unable to alleviate their TMJ disorder symptoms through other types of self-care.