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TMJ: The Jaw Dropping Truth

Rodney Baier, DDS
September 18, 2023

You wake up in the morning, stretch out your arms, and let out a big yawn…and that is when you hear that annoying click occasionally accompanied by facial soreness. There may not be much pain or discomfort, but that click or grinding noise is undeniable. If you think it’s alright to keep ignoring it because it just doesn’t hurt that bad, your jaw doesn’t lock, or maybe others don’t notice the noise while you chew; you’re wrong! The sound you’re hearing and the discomfort you feel are symptoms of a potentially larger problem that can worsen the longer you ignore it. Often, clicking or grinding from your jaw could be a symptom of TMJ disorder or TMD.

What is TMJ or TMD?

On either side of your jaw, you have a very important temporomandibular joint commonly known as TMJ. These joints or sliding hinges involve the articular disc which is made up of elastic fibrocartilage and act as a cushion while connecting your lower jaw to your temporal bone. When this joint is working properly there is a cushion to protect your bones and prevent them from rubbing together. TMJ disorders or TMD can vary in both severity of the symptoms and the causes of the disorder, but a jaw click lets you know that something is wrong with one or more of the articular discs.

TMJ Disorder symptoms include:

-Clicking noise when moving or opening jaw
-Ear discomfort
-Jaw pain in the morning or when stressed
-Discomfort when chewing
-Ringing in the ear

TMJ Disorder possible causes:

-Temporomandibular joint is damaged by some sort of impact
-Long term effects of clenching or grinding your teeth
-The cartilage around the joint is damaged from arthritis
-The small shock-absorbing disks that separate the TMJ from the cartilage have eroded or misaligned

Diagnosing TMJ Disorder

When you come in for your routine cleaning or schedule a consultation, Dr. Baier will perform a physical exam to test the full movement of your jaw and assess whether your joint is allowing you to achieve a full range of movement. He will also listen for any popping, scraping, or grinding noises that may occur while you open and close your mouth while also feeling areas along your jaw to test for triggers of discomfort. If Dr. Baier finds that he needs further evaluation for you, he may require the use of a Cone Beam CT or MRI. Cone Beam CT imaging provides a 3D view of the temporomandibular joint and skull which allows him to check for erosion of the bone and narrowing of the airway. An MRI can depict joint abnormalities by providing images of the disc and the muscles and other soft tissues surrounding the joint.

Consequences of Untreated TMJ

If you are currently experiencing symptoms of TMJ and decide to delay treatment, your symptoms will most likely worsen with time. Unfortunately living day to day with TMJ can take a toll on not just your oral health but also your sleep, the amount of oxygen your body gets, your mood, eating habits, and even your posture while sitting and walking. Airway sleep disorders (such as sleep apnea) and TMJ disorders are strongly linked and often as one progresses, so does the other. Luckily, both are treatable conditions once properly diagnosed.

Treatment for TMJ

Dr. Baier’s extensive training and teaching are based on the non-surgical treatment of TMD to bring the jaw and bite back into alignment for long-term relief while also keeping a focus on your airway. After a full evaluation and discussion with you about your priorities, a personalized treatment plan will be put together for you. If you’re struggling with headaches or jaw trouble in the Atlanta area and are worried that you may have TMJ, please reach out to us for a consultation. Dr. Baier and his Sandy Springs Dental Practice professionals all share the same patient-centered practices. We look forward to hearing from you!

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