We see a lot of patients living with the pain of temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMJD/TMD, and get questions from them about their treatment options. One of the questions we hear frequently is, "Do I need braces to fix my TMD?"
Most people cringe at the thought of braces or orthodontic treatment for TMD because they don't want a mouth full of wires and brackets.
But, while braces or other orthodontic interventions such as Invisalign can often help those living with painful jaw problems, they aren't always the answer. Therefore, we offer alternatives to braces for treating TMD that may be appropriate depending on the severity of your jaw problems.
What Is TMD?
The temporomandibular joint is where your lower jawbone connects to your skull. The TMJ is actually two joints: one on each side of your head. These joints are what allow us to open and close our mouths. However, when these joints become inflamed or swollen, they cause discomfort and pain, known as temporomandibular joint disorder.
Temporomandibular joint disorder is a term used to describe any jaw problem that causes pain in the TMJ muscles and tissues. It's important to note that this doesn't mean you have arthritis in your joints. Instead, TMD is inflammation of the soft tissue around the joints.
You may hear people use the term "TMJ," rather than TMD, to describe all conditions that cause jaw pain.
How Common Is TMD?
Temporomandibular joint disorder affects more than 10 million people in the United States alone. It's estimated that one out of every five adults has at least one episode of TMD per year. That's why it's essential to know how to identify the signs and symptoms of TMD so you can seek proper care.
How Does TMD Occur?
Many factors can contribute to TMD. Some of the more common causes include:
- Sleeping position
- Eating habits
- Poor posture
- Congenital disabilities
- Overuse of jaw muscles (excessive gum chewing, etc.)
- Bite problems
Bite Problems and TMD
If your bite is off, also known as bite malocclusion, this may lead to TMD. If you're experiencing any of the following issues, don't hesitate to get in touch with us today for further information:
- Open bite
These bad bites can cause uneven and unnatural pressure on your jaw joints, causing the muscles and other tissues surrounding the joints to become strained and inflamed.
When Should You See Your Dentist About TMD?
You should see your dentist if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Aching or tenderness in the jaw
- Sharp pain when biting down
- Soreness in the jaw or ears
- Swelling of cheeks or lips
- Difficulty chewing or eating
- Frequent headaches
- Neck stiffness
- Trouble sleeping
- Neck pain
Treatment Options for TMD
In most cases, TMD doesn't require surgery or invasive procedures.
However, several non-surgical treatments can help ease your symptoms and prevent your TMD from getting worse.
Braces for TMD
For milder cases of TMD, braces may not be necessary. However, braces are often used to treat conditions like crossbites and overbites. They're also helpful for correcting misaligned teeth and improving bite alignment.
It's important to note that braces aren't suitable for everyone. If your TMD is caused by muscle strain due to bad habits like clenching your teeth or excessive gum chewing, braces won't help. If a tooth is out of alignment, throwing your bite off, something a bit less invasive than braces, such as Invisalign, can help.
Severe cases of TMD may require braces to bring maximum relief, however. These cases include severe arthritis, inflammation, joint damage and bone loss.
Non-Surgical Treatments for TMD
The following treatments are available to help alleviate the symptoms associated with TMD:
- Ice packs
- Heat therapy
- Muscle relaxants
- Anti-inflammatory drugs
- Pain medication
These interventions can help relieve pain and discomfort caused by TMD, but in most cases, relief is only temporary.
Oral Appliances for TMD
Another option for treating TMD is oral appliances. Oral appliances are custom-made devices that fit your mouth and hold your jaw in place. They work best for patients who don't want to wear braces.
Some examples of oral appliances include:
Splints. These are usually worn around the clock and are designed to hold your jaw in a stable position while you sleep.
Nightguards. These are worn during the day to protect your teeth and gums from damage due to grinding.
Mandibular repositioners. These are small plastic trays that gently pull your jaw forward and back to correct crooked bites.
The use of oral appliances is very effective for some types of TMD and can provide relief.
Interested in learning more about our alternative options to treat your jaw pain? Call us now to schedule an appointment.