What is TMJ?

TMJ stands for TemporoMandibular Joint. It is one of the most complex joints in the body. They are located on each side of the face in front of the ears. These joints allow for all types of movement needed for chewing, swallowing, speaking and making facial expressions. When people experience pain with this joint and its associated muscles, it is known as TemporoMandibular Dysfunction (TMD). There are muscular, skeletal and neurologic origins for this disease. Dr. Brueggeman or Dr. Kopecky can assess your situation and offer solutions to help you have a healthier and more comfortable jaw.

Do I have TMD?

Symptoms may occur on one or both sides of the head, neck or face. Sometimes people confuse TMD with an inner ear or headache problem and may see their physician first.

Complaints include:

  • chronic, low-grade ache in the jaw and temple region
  • sharp, stabbing pain felt in the muscles, joint or ears
  • a persistent “tight” or fatigued feeling in the jaw area, most noticeable in the mornings but can be anytime
  • headaches in the temples, forehead and/or back of the head
  • neck and shoulder pain
  • limited opening or pain with opening
  • locking of the jaw in an open or closed position
  • pain when chewing food
  • change in dietary habits to avoid foods that cause discomfort (sub sandwiches, gum, hard pretzels, etc.)
  • clicking, popping or grating sounds in the joint
  • unusual bite or changes in the bite (i.e. teeth don’t touch on one side or you have “more than one” bite)
  • history of clenching or grinding of teeth
  • sensitive, loose, broken or worn teeth

What causes TMD?

Not all causes of TMD are known but two primary factors include stress and your unique bite. Any level of life change can stimulate teeth clenching and/or grinding habits that lead to muscle injury and pain. Some people are “programmed” by the nature of their given bite, such as a crossbite or deep overbite, to develop the habit of clenching or grinding. Other people will experience changes to their bite from neck, head or jaw trauma, tooth loss, or from dental procedures. The pain often comes and goes and can last from days to years. When associated with periods of stress, it will sometimes go away on its own when the stress factor subsides.

What can I do for TMJ disorder?

Don’t delay!  Research has shown that symptoms treated within the first six months have the best chance for success.  After six months, pain can become chronic and difficult to treat.

As a first step, you will be asked to complete a TMD Screening Questionnaire to summarize the history of your problem, past treatments and current symptoms. A focused TMJ examination performed by Dr. Brueggeman or Dr. Kopecky will identify if you have a diagnosis of TMD. A course of treatment may then be outlined to best assist you with relief from this disorder.

No one solution can resolve TMJ disorders completely and treatment takes time to become effective. It is important to note that results are most effective utilizing a team approach of self-care joined with professional care.

A hard, acrylic appliance known as a “splint” (or nightguard) may be recommended. It fits comfortably over the biting surface of either your top or bottom teeth. The splint promotes muscle relaxation and reduces pain by aligning the jaw and TMJ’s in a stable position. This reduces loads on the joint and protects the cartilage and joint surfaces. Splints also help to protect the teeth from wear or breakage during clenching or grinding.

Additional team members may need to be added for physical therapy, chiropractics, biofeedback and counseling for stress management. Dr. Brueggeman or Dr. Kopecky will be able to help you find the appropriate team members to treat your condition.