Connecting the jaw to the skull at a point located just in front of each ear, the left and right temporomandibular joints are complex structures that facilitate oral function. While each temporomandibular joint is well equipped to handle the stress as the jaw moves up and down, front to back, and from side to side, it can still become dysfunctional when overused, inflamed, or injured.
The importance of functional harmony
Every time you close your mouth or bite down to bring your teeth together, there should be a healthy distribution of forces. Additionally, your top teeth should contact the bottom teeth during jaw movement in a functionally harmonious way. Having premature or uneven contact between the upper and lower teeth can lead to unhealthy jaw deviations when biting and other symptoms of soreness or discomfort.
Risk factors and causes of jaw joint dysfunction and discomfort
Factors that can increase one’s risk of developing a TMJ problem include bruxism or teeth grinding habit, misalignment of or trauma to the teeth and jaw, or degenerative changes associated with arthritis and other inflammatory musculoskeletal disorders. A TMJ disorder can exhibit a wide range of uncomfortable and debilitating symptoms such as clicking, cracking, or popping of the jaw with movement, earaches, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), headaches, facial pain, back and neck pain, vertigo, and muscle spasms as well as jaw locking and limited jaw movement.
Occlusal splints and other treatments
When evaluating a patient for the presence of a TMJ disorder, our professional team will review their medical and dental history and perform a thorough clinical assessment of joint symptoms and function. Special radiographic imaging and other diagnostic tests may get ordered as needed. Depending on the diagnosis, treatment may include oral appliances such as nightguards or occlusal splint to alleviate strain on the joints.
An occlusal splint is designed to fit over the teeth and keep the jaws slightly apart, thereby preventing several damaging events, including muscle strain, excessive pressure on the jaw joint (the TMJ), and dental trauma such as chipped or cracked teeth. It can also help curb a bruxism habit and give the wearer a better night’s sleep.
Although many people respond to occlusal splint therapy, our office will also discuss helpful self-care methods, stress reduction, and relaxation techniques. We’ll also advise you if medication or other treatment is needed to help restore your oral function and comfort.