TMJ disorder, or simply TMJ, is a jaw disorder affecting approximately 12% of the U.S population. Trauma to the head, frequent clenching, and teeth grinding are some of the leading causes of TMJ. So how can you treat it? And would either braces or Invisalign work?
Braces and Invisalign may be able to fix TMJ only if it’s related to misalignment of teeth, overcrowding, and bite issues. Otherwise, an Orthodontist or dentist will determine which treatment option will best deal with the problem.
Unlike other Oral issues, TMJ can be both a medical and dental issue, so talking to a specialist early on will ensure you get the appropriate treatment for your specific case. So now, let’s dive in and learn more about TMJ and how to fix it.
What are the Symptoms of TMJ?
TMJ is short for Temporomandibular Joint, a joint connecting the skull to the jaw. TMJ is a crucial joint responsible for a wide variety of movements. Its primary functions are to facilitate talking, eating, and singing.
TMJ disorder occurs when the Temporomandibular Jaw loses its ability to function correctly, often leading to pain and other symptoms.
While TMJ and TMJ disorder are often used interchangeably, the former refers to the joint alone, and the other refers to the disorder of said joint.
People with TMJ disorder generally experience the following symptoms:
Repeated Episodes of Tenderness and Pain
A person with TMJ disorder will experience a sharp pain in the jaw area, resulting from the jaw slipping forward.
Since the TMJ sits behind a large nerve connected to multiple smaller nerves, the pain can quickly travel to other areas of the head and face.
TMJ also pushes the jaw out of alignment; this makes chewing difficult and, at times, excruciatingly painful if the misalignment is severe.
The Jaw Joint in Either an Open or Closed Position
The TMJ consists of ligaments and discs. When one or a combination of those “slips” out of place, the affected person can experience a locked jaw.
A locked jaw prevents or limits movements of the jaw, and trying to either close or open a locked jaw can be extremely painful.
What Causes TMJ?
Experts have yet to pinpoint the exact cause of TMJ disorder, but they’ve identified a multitude of contributing factors. These factors all have one thing in common; they inflict some damage on the TMJ discs, which forces them out of alignment.
In addition, straining the jaw joints and muscle group responsible for swallowing, chewing, and talking can substantially affect the TMJ. Bruxism has also been identified as a contributing factor.
It’s the involuntary but frequent grinding and clenching of the teeth. In more severe cases, trauma to the head and Arthritis can also trigger TMJ disorder, and the list goes on.
How to Diagnose TMJ
Proper diagnosis of TMJ disorder can only be performed by a doctor or trained professional. A variety of diagnosis methods will generally be used, depending on the case at hand.
Initially, your doctor will perform a physical examination that consists of observing your jaw and its range of motion and pressing on your jaw and surrounding areas to identify points of pain or discomfort. Subsequent diagnoses include the following:
- Dental X-rays
- CT Scan
Can Braces or Invisalign Help My TMJ?
Depending on the cause and severity, TMJ can be tackled with various treatments. In mild cases, TMJ can be treated with hot and cold compresses, Over-the-counter medication, and jaw massages.
In severe cases, more complex treatments may be needed. Braces and Invisalign aren’t typically used to treat TMJ unless the issue is related to misalignment, crowding, and gaps in the mouth cavity. Here’s how they can potentially treat TMJ:
Braces can correct the way your teeth are aligned in relation to each other on the top and bottom jaw. Realigning your teeth evenly distributes chewing forces, which can minimize TMJ issues.
Invisalign is a more attractive and less painful alternative to braces. In addition, it’s used to correct misalignment and bite issues to an extent.
The only problem with Invisalign is that it generally treats mild to moderate misalignment cases, which may not be enough to eliminate TMJ completely.
How Long Does it Take to Fix TMJ?
TMJ flare-ups occur when you experience new symptoms or the severity of the usual symptoms increases.
The flare-ups and symptoms vary from person to person, which is why several treatments exist to fix TMJ. That said, how long it takes to eliminate TMJ symptoms ultimately depends on the treatment used.
Therapy has been proven to be a rather effective way to treat TMJ symptoms. Therapists use a wide variety of techniques like stretching, bio feeding, and even acupuncture to tackle TMJ.
While these provide instant relief to the patient, treating the issue may take weeks to months and sometimes even years.
Self-care is an often overlooked way to get a handle on TMJ. However, doctors will recommend this if the symptoms aren’t severe.
Self-care treatment incorporates relaxation techniques like Yoga and meditation, as well as stress management which can include over-the-counter anxiety medication (on Amazon).
Unfortunately, it takes about six months to 3 years to notice improvements in symptoms.
Doctors may sometimes use a combination of medications on patients dealing with TMJ. The medications target various aspects of the disorder, such as inflammation, chronic pain, muscle tension, and muscle discomfort.
However, specialists have noted that medications can’t treat TMJ; they’re merely used to make symptoms more manageable.
Braces and Invisalign aren’t the only medical devices designed to treat TMJ and related issues. Depending on the case, splints, mouthguards, and prosthodontics may also be used.
Medical devices have the highest degree of efficacy, and improvements can often be observed in a month.
Who Do I Talk to About TMJ Disorder
TMJ disorder involves the teeth, mouth cavity, and surrounding bones and nerves. With that being said, several health professionals may be able to tackle the issue.
However, to effectively treat the disorder, you’ll need to determine which health professional best suits your case. So here are questions to ask yourself beforehand:
- What are my symptoms like?
- Which specialist have I seen in the past?
- Which specialist is better equipped to handle my symptoms?
TMJ may be a disorder of the temporomandibular joints. Still, it also affects surrounding tissue and organs. Since specialists haven’t discovered the exact cause of TMJ, an array of treatments exist to treat the symptoms depending on their underlying cause. The typical timeframe for treatment ranges from a month to 3 years.