The temporomandibular joint, or the ‘jaw point’, is a hinge that connects your jaw to your temporal skull bones. It assists in the opening and closing of your jaw, and plays an important role in letting you speak, chew, smile and yawn.
Because of the frequent and constant use of the jaw point, it is a common target for recurring pain and the jaw pain associated with it is called TMJ pain.
What is TMJ Dysfunction?
TMJ dysfunction is an umbrella term covering a large number of painful jaw ailments like: pain in the jaw joint, jaw clicking and popping, ear pain, popping sounds in ears, throbbing headaches, sore jaw muscles and locking of the jaw joint.
Before treating a TMJ dysfunction, it is important to diagnose it properly to pinpoint the exact underlying problem.
You might have to take a radiograph of your jaw point, which will show a detailed picture of your TMJ anatomy and pinpoint any visible anomalies. Your dentist might also recommend you to wear jaw repositioners (splint appliance), which is an appliance that helps eliminate bite pain. Once the appliance is refined in a way that it has eliminated your bite pain, a long-term treatment is prescribed to duplicate the effects of the appliance.
The Splint Appliance
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The jaw repositioners that we were talking about are also used to remedy bite disharmony and the resulting pain. This is done by positioning the splint in a way that it adjusts the jaw point in a stable position.
These jaw repostioners or splints as they are called, are used to eliminate jaw point pain with a procedure called occlusal splint therapy, where the repositioner is adjusted in tandem with the jaw point to alleviate pain. There are many types of splints used in this therapy:
These are used to prevent or alleviate the wearer from clenching and bruxism (involuntary habitual grinding of the teeth). These can be made out of hard materials or soft (more flexible) materials and mostly have to be worn at night.
Repositioning splints are to be worn 24*7 and are used to pull the lower jaw forward. Here are some specific splints:
- MORA (mandibular repositioning appliance)
- Anterior bite planes
- Anterior repositioning splint
These splints help the wearer lessen jaw pain because they allow the muscles & ligaments to relax by taking a firm grip on the jaw. This helps in getting rid of the tension that bruxism and teeth clenching causes.
Also the splints help protect the patient’s teeth from wear and tear caused due to grinding.
The splints also help in correcting a patients’ bite (correcting the way the patient’s teeth fit together). An off bite may not be right for the patients jaw points and can lead to extreme pain.
Most of the times, splint therapy works perfectly. Other times the splint might worsen the pain. In these rare cases, there are many alternatives:
- Physical Therapy
- Trigger Point Injections
- Massage Therapy
- Lastly: Surgery
TMJ can make your life very uncomfortable. There is a way you can avoid cringing in pain every few minutes and start smiling instead. Contact Dr. Joshua Hong at Joshua Hong DDS to help you keep smiling.
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