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Temporomandibular joint disorder, commonly referred to as TMD or TMJ, affects countless people who often suffer from headaches, jaw pain and chewing difficulties. In some instances, orthodontic treatments can be used to reduce or eliminate these symptoms. Here’s what you should know about TMJ and braces.
What Is TMJ Disorder?
The temporomandibular joint behaves like a sliding hinge that connects the lower jaw to the skull. Sometimes, the joint can become misaligned, leading to a variety of unpleasant symptoms that aren’t always easy to diagnose. A person with TMJ disorder may experience a wide range of issues, including jaw popping, headaches, facial pain and, in some instances, tinnitus. The intensity of these symptoms can vary significantly, with some people experiencing very mild issues and others experiencing debilitating problems that greatly diminish the quality of their lives.
What Causes TMJ Disorder?
It’s not always clear why someone develops TMJ disorder. While it can result from a traumatic event, often TMJ develops over a long period of time, as the muscles and ligaments that hold the joint in place become damaged or stretched by repetitive motion. Certain genetic traits and habits could also make a person more likely to develop TMJ disorder, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Can Orthodontics Help TMJ?
Treatment for TMJ disorder depends on a number of factors including the underlying cause. Several things can increase a person’s risk of developing TMJ, including arthritis, dislocation, stress, teeth grinding and tooth and jaw alignment problems. When the latter issue is believed to be the source of the problem, orthodontists often recommend braces for TMJ.
How to Fix TMJ with Braces
Since TMJ disorder is often caused by issues with the bite, braces can be used to restore alignment and reduce or eliminate symptoms. Many people experience significant or total relief when TMJ orthodontics are used to align the teeth, not just with neighboring teeth, but also with opposing teeth in the other jaw. Once the teeth are repositioned correctly, the temporomandibular joint will often shift back into its optimal alignment. This reduces or stops ongoing symptoms, while preventing abnormal wear and tear to teeth, which often occurs when they are misaligned.
How Else Is TMJ Disorder Treated?
Depending on the source of the problem and the intensity of symptoms, TMJ disorder can sometimes be treated non-invasively, using splints or night guards, which hold the teeth apart to prevent grinding. Other treatments include muscle stimulation to minimize tension in the jaw, stress reduction and the regular application of heat to the joint.
TMJ patients are also encouraged to eat softer foods and avoid problematic activities, including nail biting, gum chewing and teeth grinding. In some instances, patients can benefit from certain medications, including analgesics, muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory drugs and anti-anxiety medications. In severe cases where people experience significant pain and loss of function, invasive surgery may be required.
Whatever the case, it’s important to seek an expert evaluation from a dental professional, who can help guide you toward a treatment plan that’s appropriate for your specific symptoms.