What is TMJ Disorder (TMD/TMJD)?
The joints on either side of your jaw are called the temporomandibular joint. For simplicity’s sake, most people refer to those joints as the “TMJ.” The TMJ itself provides an attachment between your mandible (lower jaw) and the skull base and is a complex group of muscles and ligaments. When the TMJ does not function properly or experiences painful flare-ups, a clinical condition called temporomandibular joint disorder, referred to as TMD or TMJD, develops. And depending on the underlying cause of your TMJ issue, braces for TMJ treatment may be part of your overall care plan.
What Causes TMJ to Occur?
Your TMJ moves thousands of times per day. Each time you eat, the jaw moves up and down, back and forth, and side to side. Considering the times your jaw moves when you open your mouth, use it for talking, laughing, smiling, among many other activities, you likely move your TMJ more than any other joint in the body.
But here’s the thing: You have two TMJs, one on both sides of your mandible (lower jaw.) They need to function harmoniously as a pair. But let’s say you get into an accident, such as a car wreck or athletic injury. When one side is injured, your body tries to compensate. As a result, you can experience TMJ pain on one or both sides of your mouth.
Overuse is another common cause of Temporomandibular Disorder. People with chronic clenching and grinding (bruxism) frequently experience TMJ strain due to the constant muscle contraction and pressure placed on the joint.
So what does any of this have to do with braces for temporomandibular joint treatment? As previously mentioned, there’s one other common cause of TMD: alignment problems or “malocclusions.” When your teeth don’t occlude (bite) together correctly, it’s more difficult to process your food for digestion effectively. So naturally, your jaw accommodates those bite discrepancies by irregularly shifting the teeth, allowing food to be ground down. All of those atypical jaw joint movements start to take a toll as the years go by, leading to joint strain. As such, braces as a temporomandibular disorder treatment option can help bring your teeth into a healthy relationship and thus lessen the stress on your jaw joints.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder Common Symptoms
- Jaw popping or clicking noises when you move your mouth
- Headaches or migraines
- Ear pain
- Jaw pain
- Neck pain
- Muscle fatigue through your face, neck, shoulders, and back
- Limited range of motion (opening)
- Deviation of your jaw to one side when opening/closing
- Crepitation (grinding) inside of your joints
- Misaligned teeth or upper/lower jaws
- Irregular wear patterns on teeth
- Chipped or broken teeth
- Damaged dental work
It’s possible to experience occasional symptoms of TMD without having clinical TMJ disorder. But if symptoms persist or prevent you from normal daily activities like eating or talking, you need to seek professional treatment. Can braces help TMJ disorder? Depending on your situation, absolutely!
Will Braces Help TMJ Disorder?
Since joint disorders can be affected by how your teeth fit together, orthodontic treatments for TMJ cases are sometimes appropriate. With mild to moderate TMJ disorder, orthodontics guide your bite into alignment and thereby lessen the tension within your jaw joints.
Naturally improving the patterns of motion in and around your mouth can ease the tension that’s radiating from your two TMJ joints. That’s why it’s sometimes essential to look in other areas for the cause of your jaw pain, aside from the TMJ itself. By creating a harmonious environment within the mouth, we can naturally improve issues in the ligaments, jaw muscles, and joints that make up our overall oral anatomy.
Can Invisalign Fix TMJ?
For TMJ, orthodontics may be an integral part of your recommended care plan. But what about Invisalign?
Invisalign and conventional orthodontic appliances can treat many of the same types of malocclusions. For instance, Invisalign can address crowding and gaps between teeth. It might not be the most appropriate solution for growth modification involving widening the arches (like in younger children whose mouths are still developing.)
Depending on the precise cause(s) of your jaw joint disorder, adjusting the alignment of your teeth may be necessary. And if that’s the case, then Invisalign for TMJ could provide you with the care plan you’re looking for. As added perks, our adult Invisalign patients get to enjoy a discreet and easy-to-care-for alternative to conventional braces. Invisalign is perfect for busy professionals and parents.
Although all of us “have TMJ” in the fact that it’s an anatomical joint, only a small percentage of people have clinical dysfunction of their TMJ. Invisalign or orthodontic therapy may be a part of the future prescribed care plan, but a formal diagnosis is essential first.
Typically, a family physician, general dentist, oral surgeon, or orthodontist will diagnose TMJD. The diagnosis comes after a physical examination of the jaw joint and likely a series of X-rays or CT scans. These images will reveal any internal structural damage that coincides with physical symptoms you may be experiencing. It’s important to rule out any structural issues such as bone deterioration, disease, or fractures within the jaw itself. Orthodontists cannot see these types of conditions during a typical visual orthodontic examination.
Additional Treatment Options For TMD Management
Non-Pharmacologic Treatment & Management
The following adjunctive measures have shown evidence as potential treatments:
- Jaw rest
- Soft diet
- Moist warm compresses
- Passive stretching exercises
- Physical therapy
For more treatments, including pharmacological TMD management options, please review these articles from TMJ.org and AAFP.org.
Request a Consult with Our TMJ Orthodontist
Dr. Charles Cohen can help you find out if braces will help TMJ for your specific situation. Much of it will depend on your unique anatomy.
Can braces or Invisalign fix TMJ dysfunction? Technically speaking, they’re an effective part of some comprehensive care plans. We encourage you to contact our Barrhaven orthodontics practice to book some time with us for a free consultation to find out more.