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The temporomandibular joints function like a hinge, allowing you to open and close your mouth by connecting your skull to your jawbone. These joints are hard at work when you speak, chew, yawn, and swallow. Injury to these joints is called TMJ dysfunction. Signs of TMJ dysfunction are clicking joints, sore muscles, and sometimes, pain and soreness by the ear. In fact, other than the common toothache, TMJ is the most common reason for oral pain.
The symptoms of TMJ can severely impact a patient’s quality of life, and treatment of TMJ is first and foremost focused on reducing pain. While the causes of TMJ are not fully understood, experts believe that stress, arthritis, and teeth misalignment are prime contributors to the problem. This is why it is imperative to take regular x-rays for proper dental analysis. Detecting risk factors for developing TMJ is critical, as the condition becomes more complicated to treat the more it progresses.
If the patient is grinding his or her teeth at night, the dentist may create a custom-fit stabilization splint (or bite guard) that fits over the lower or upper teeth. Stress-reduction techniques would also be discussed as well as the possibility of muscle relaxants.
Of course, these are just temporary solutions in order to alleviate pain. A more permanent solution would be to fix the patient’s bite altogether. In the case of misaligned teeth, your dentist will look to adjust your bite and bring your teeth into more proper alignment. This alternative is much preferred to undergoing surgery, which can be painful and cost-prohibitive.