Category Archives: TMJ

How Do I Know if I Have TMJ or TMD?

I’m at a loss. I’ve been doing some research and have narrowed it down to two conditions, but I can’t tell the difference between them so don’t know who to see.
Here are my symptoms:

  • Jawpain
  • Headaches
  • Clicking in jaw
  • Teeth have shifted

Do I have TMJ or TMD? Who do I see for it?

Marilyn

Dear Marilyn,

A Chart showing how joints muscles and teeth all work together in TMJ

I understand why you’re confused. These two acronyms are used interchangeably. TMD stands for Temporomandibular Disorder. TMJ stands for Temporomandibular Joint. When the joint is out of alignment, which can happen for several reasons as seen in the chart above, it causes TMD.

Your symptoms are pointing to this disorder, whether you call it TMJ or TMD. You’ll want to see a dentist, but not just any dentist. First, not all dentists treat it because it is so complex. Secondly, some do treat it who shouldn’t. You really want a dentist who’s invested significant training in diagnosing and treating this disorder. As an example, look at Dr. Burba’s TMJ Dentist credentials. This is the type of dentist you want to find in your area.

What to Look for in TMJ Treatment

Because TMJ is so complex, it is imperative your dentist finds the underlying cause of your TMJ in order to begin proper treatment. You also want to start with the least invasive treatment possible. For instance, if it turns out your problem has stemmed from nighttime grinding, the first thing to do is protect your teeth from any further damage.

From there, you can take up repairing the damage. Maybe your teeth are ground down to nubs and you need dental crowns. Or possibly, your teeth have been pushed out of place and you need Invisalign to realign your bite. Maybe you need a combination. The key is a dentist who knows what to look for.

This blog is brought to you by Dr. Randall Burba.

Store Bought TMJ Treatment

I’m drowning in medical bills right now and don’t think I can afford a dentist. But, my jaw has locked up. My sister says TMJ does that and that I need an oral device to help. All I know is I can’t even eat. I’ve heard you can use an oral mouthguard to treat TMJ. I saw one at the pharmacy the other day and it was only about $20. I can afford that much. Is there anything I need to know about using it?

Drew A.

Dear Drew,

TMJ Treatment Dentist

Your sister is right on both points. Lock-jaw is often caused by TMJ Disorder. While, the orthotic anterior repositioning splint can be used to treat TMJ, that’s not what you saw at the store. A mouthguard is completely different. They’re used to protect people’s teeth from habitual tooth grinding. If that’s an issue you struggle with, you’ll want a mouthguard after you finish your TMJ treatment. However, the store bought ones aren’t custom fit. They just come in small, medium, or large. You can also find a one size fits all. They’re okay on a temporary basis, but you’ll grind through them rather quickly.

One made by your dentist will be more effective. I know your TMJ is the focus right now, but if you don’t protect your teeth from the grinding there are serious consequences. Not only does the grinding aggravate your TMJ, but it can lead to cracked teeth or even teeth coming loose and needing to be replaced. Best case scenario, they end up ground down to nubs and all need to be crowned. Talk about expensive!

But, back to your current issue. Here’s what I’d like you to do in the immediate so we can try to get the swelling down and get you eating again. I’d like you to take 800 mg. of ibuprofen about three times a day. In addition, you need to alternate heat and ice packs. Wear them for about ten minutes at a time, a few times a day as you’re able.

You will need to see a dentist to get the appropriate treatment. I know you’re buried in medical bills right now. Many dentists are compassionate and would be willing to work with you on payments so you can get the treatment you need right away and pay it out later.

Even if you can’t find one willing to work you, Care Credit is a fantastic option. It’s a medical “credit card”, but they let you choose your terms.

This blog is brought to you by Dr. Randall Burba.

Do I Really Need to Destroy Healthy Teeth to Fix TMJ?

I’ve been having horrible jaw pain and merciless migraines. Sometimes it’s so bad I can’t even eat and have to drink my dinner of broth through a straw. I went to several doctors and two different dentists before I was diagnosed with TMU. But, he says the only way to fix it is to crown all my teeth to fix my bite. That would mean not only a fortune in dental bills, but destroying healthy tooth structure as well. Is that really the way to go?

Sydney C.

Dear Sydney,

Sometimes a full-mouth reconstruction is the only option, but it’s usually used as a last resort. There are several other treatments which should be tried before that. Additionally, it takes a significant amount of reconstructive and TMJ training to do a full mouth reconstruction. Done incorrectly, it can cause even more pain then what you’re currently in now.

Also, if you do need it, you may find a dentist who uses the composite resin, like you get for white fillings to adjust the bite instead of porcelain crowns. However, don’t push a dentist to use one type of treatment or another. It’s best they use the materials they’re most comfortable with.

In your place, I’d like to see you get at least two more opinions from dentists with lots of TMJ expertise. For instance, Dr. Burba studied at both the Dawson Academy and Spear Institute. Both of these give advanced training in TMJ. There’s never any harm in asking a dentist what type of training and success they’ve had in specific procedures, especially when you’re talking about such a huge, invasive procedure.

This blog is brought to you by Dr. Randall Burba.

Diet or Dentist For TMJ?

I feel a little foolish asking this question but I’m wondering if TMJ can be a diet related problem? I have horrible jaw and head pain, especially in the mornings. My closest friend truly believes that if I switch to a whole foods diet it will be taken care of. Even as I type it, it seems like a stupid idea. However, I’ll have to admit my friend is a lot healthier than I am. So maybe there is something to what she has to say.  Do I need a dentist or a diet change?

Lucia M.

Dear Lucia,

There is one aspect of TMJ which can be diet related, but one only. Chewing. TMJ is a disorder of the temporomandibular joint.  Changing your diet won’t repair the joint. However, if you’re eating things such as raw carrots and apples it could be adding stress to the joint. It might be a good idea to lay off the hard and chewy foods while your dentist gets to the cause of your problem.

Your symptoms sort of sound like the cause could be teeth grinding. You wouldn’t necessarily even know you’re doing it if it’s happening while you’re asleep.

If that’s the cause, a simple mouthguard could be just the solution for you. Your dentist can custom design one to fit comfortably in your mouth while you sleep. If you start to grind your teeth, the mouthguard will absorb the pressure, protecting your teeth and your joint.

This will also protect your teeth from damage. The grinding can cause your teeth to become loose or cracked, causing you to need a dental crown.

This blog is brought to you by Dr. Randall Burba.

Why Do I Need an Occlusion Specialist?

I’m a little confused. My dentist has been treating me for TMJ for almost a year. We’ve tried a couple of things, but now he wants to send me to something called an occlusion specialist. Is he just trying to pawn me off?

Elle W. – California

Elle,

I don’t think he’s trying to pawn you off. It’s more likely he realized the cause of your TMJ problems are from your bite and wanted you to see someone who had more training in that area. To me, that means he cares more about getting you the right care than he does about taking your money.

If your bite is off, it really can be the cause of your TMJ. It can throw your temporomandibular joint completely out, that can cause jaw pain, migraines, popping, even lock jaw.

Getting your bite in line can give you the relief you’ve been seeking.

This blog is brought to you by Dr. Randall Burba.

Is TMJ Really a Big Deal?

My sister keeps saying she has TMJ like it’s a whole big thing. Is it really a big deal or is she making a mountain out of a mole hill?

Joe L. – Louisiana

Joe,

TMJ can be quite serious. Not only can it cause severe migraines, but it can also cause your jaw to lock up so you can’t open and close your mouth anymore.

It’s caused by a disorder of the jaw joint. A dentist with TMJ training can help her to know how to repair the joint disorder.

The best treatment can sometimes be difficult to figure out, so be patient with your sister if she’s struggling with headaches and muscle pain. It’s always better to start with the least invasive treatment first.

Though we don’t know all the causes of TMJ, we do know that sometimes behaviors, such as grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw can lead to TMJ.

This blog is brought to you by Dr. Randall Burba.

I’ve had some degree of dental anxiety ever since I was a child, but I did a fair job of keeping up with appointments until I was in my early 20s. At that point, I was having some minor jaw pain and the doctor also found a couple of cavities that needed to be filled. He knew about the jaw pain, but told me there wasn’t any cause for concern over it. He felt it was related to grinding at night. My experience with the fillings, however, was horrific. He must have made me keep my mouth open for about two hours straight. It hurt so bad and I kept telling him I needed a break, but he kept going and telling me it would only be a minute or two more. By the end of it, tears were streaming down my face and he basically told me I was acting like a child. It really hurt! I couldn’t eat normally for weeks after that and I haven’t been back since. Now, I know my teeth have some issues going on, but my jaw pain is really flaring up again too. I think I should see a TMJ dentist for that, but where do I go first? Can he treat me before I get my cavities filled, so I can get through the treatment or do I need to start with my teeth and then address my jaw? I don’t think I can do more fillings before fixing my jaw pain.

Marie E. – Pittsburg

Dear Marie,

See the TMJ dentist first. It sounds like you’re already familiar with how one can help you. A TMJ dentist can address the root cause of your jaw pain and hopefully get it to settle down so you can be comfortable getting your other dental needs seen to.

With that said, something about what you said jumped out. You mentioned that your prior dentist said you grind your teeth at night and that’s what was causing your jaw pain. If this is the case, getting a simple night guard made might be all you need to address the sore jaw. Undoubtedly, the TMJ dentist will discuss this with you if you’re a good candidate for one. However, what’s striking is that your prior doctor didn’t mention this. It was cause for concern and should have been treated back then.

Continuous grinding not only strains your jaw and muscles, but wears down your teeth. If wouldn’t be too surprising to find that you’ve weakened the biting surface of your teeth enough that they’re either sensitive or highly susceptible to decay. In extreme circumstances, you can wear them down enough or crack them so that they’ll require crowns, but most of the time fillings can repair the damage.

Although this doesn’t matter in terms of getting you out of immediate pain, you may want to keep this in mind for when you go in for a full diagnosis. It’s not the end of the world by any means. You’re on the right path and will get your dental concerns addressed, but it could take some time to restore the damage that’s occurred over years of grinding. Best of luck to you.

This blog is brought to you by Dr. Randall Burba.

Can Invisalign Cause TMJ?

I am on tray 7 of my Invisalign. I have loved the treatment, but recently started having severe headaches, and pain in my jaw and side of the face. In addition, I have a hard time opening my mouth all the way. I’m wondering if this is TMJ and is it possible it was caused by my Invisalign treatment?

Elisabeth A. – Connecticut

Elisabeth,

Though there are many causes for TMJ, usually Invisalign, or orthodontics in general, is not one of them. A person is usually predisposed due to genetics, detrimental habits, or bite problems.

TMJ dysfunction can certainly result from teeth movement if the temporomandibular joints are not functioning properly to begin with. Your first step will be to review your symptoms with your dentist.

He or she may recommend temporarily halting your treatment in order to concentrate efforts on identifying and diminishing the TMJ pain. From there you guys can re-evaluate if you are a good candidate to carry on.

Changing your bite (which Invisalign does) can indeed increase the symptoms and severity of your TMJ dysfunction, if you already had it.  Even the manufacturers of Invisalign have strict recommendations regarding TMD patients using their aligners. So again, while Invisalign may not “cause” TMJ, it may have exasperated an underlying issue that was not picked up on prior to starting treatment. Making sure your TMD is resolved first, is far more important than continuing on with Invisalign. Once that issue is settled, you may resume your orthodontic treatment.

This blog is brought to you by Dr. Randall Burba.

 

Pregnancy and TMJ

Is it possible my pregnancy is causing a TMJ flare-up?  I thought I had this under control.

Valera – Idaho

Valera,

Let me say congratulations right away.  Babies are the best!

There is no established connection between pregnancy and TMJ. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. I can think of at least two circumstances during pregnancy that could cause a flare-up.

The first is stress.  Though the expectation of a new family member is joyful, it also comes with its own stress. Will we have enough money? Will we be good parents? Will we know what to do?  Which car seat is the safest?  You get the idea. If you’re feeling stressed, it’s likely that you are clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth. That will aggravate your TMJ symptoms. Be sure you’re wearing your mouthguard at night.

The second is vitamin deficiency.  Calcium and magnesium are important when dealing with TMJ. When you’re pregnant, your body is careful to make sure the baby gets everything he or she needs. That could mean you’re not getting enough. This is an easy fix. Eat well and be sure you’re taking a great prenatal vitamin.

This blog is brought to you by Dr. Randall Burba.

Are Numb Fingers Related to TMJ?

If I have known TMJ problems, could my numb fingers be related or is that a separate issue altogether?

Mark A.

Mark,

Yes, numb finger can be an issue with TMJ. The muscles in your jaw connect with other muscles further down in your shoulders, arms, and hands. Plus the misalignment can cause it to impinge on a nerve, which will also contribute to tingling or numbness.

This is not a diagnosis. I am just saying it CAN be related; not that it is. My recommendation is that you follow up with a TMJ dentist. If you’re not already getting treatment, I would make that an priority. It will only get worse. Look on Dr. Burba’s TMJ page to know what kind of training you’ll want a dentist to have who’ s going to treat you.

There are other issues that can cause numbness as well, some as simple as needing a chiropracter. But, because you know TMJ is an issue for you, that would be my starting place.

This blog is brought to you by Dr. Randall Burba.