The TMJ (temporomandibular joint) is the joint that connects the lower jaw to the skull, and it sits approximately right in front of the ear. This joint is active throughout the day during eating, drinking and speaking. Many people don't realize that this joint might be very active at night if they are clenching or grinding their teeth (also called nocturnal bruxism). Some symptoms associated with nocturnal bruxism might be: sore jaw muscles upon waking, pain when opening/closing, headaches or flattened/chipped teeth. In some cases, pain in the jaw joint can be caused by an abnormality in the actual joint anatomy.
During your exam, the dentist will evaluate your teeth and will ask some questions related to any symptoms you might have. If they feel it is appropriate, they will recommend a TMJ splint or night guard. This appliance is customized to fit your teeth, and it looks similar to an Invisalign tray (except a little thicker). It prevents your teeth from interlocking and allows the lower jaw to slide around freely. This helps relieve tension in the joint and muscles while protecting the teeth from wear. The actual design of the appliance may vary, depending on different factors such as the patient's bite and joint function. For some patients, a day time appliance, orthodontics (braces) or physical therapy may be recommended. Your dentist may also recommend an airway evaluation and a sleep study. In very severe cases, a referral to a specialist or surgery might be indicated.
If your TMJ is giving you trouble, give our office a call today to set up an appointment!