Millions of Americans struggle with recurring headaches as well as chronic facial and neck pain. In many cases, this discomfort is caused by temporomandibular joint disorder, commonly referred to as TMJ or TMD. The temporomandibular joint allows you to complete many important daily activities such as speaking, chewing and yawning. When this joint becomes misaligned, you may experience pain and significant restriction of movement.
If you are experiencing any of the common symptoms of TMJ/TMD disorder, or if you have a loved one who may be suffering with this far-reaching neuromuscular condition, please contact Arlington Dental Aesthetics or South Riding Smiles to schedule a comprehensive evaluation with one of our LVI-trained dentists. If you live in the Arlington region of Virginia, please call 703-527-1020. If you live in the South Riding area, please call 703-327-7705.
On this page, we provide information on TMJ-related topics such as:
- What is TMJ?
- Symptoms of TMJ
- Diagnosing TMJ disorder
- K7 Neuromuscular Evaluation System
- TMJ headaches
- Sleep Apnea & TMJ Disorders
- Jaw clenching and teeth grinding
- Ear ringing and TMJ
- TMJ treatment options
- Contact our skilled TMJ dentists today
The temporomandibular joint allows you to open and close your mouth and move your jaw from side to side. The body has two of these complex joints: one on each side of the face, just below the jaw. Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) occurs when this joint becomes misaligned, potentially causing a number of unwanted symptoms and possibly disrupting the entire myofacial system.
Many symptoms of TMJ dysfunction can be mistaken for other health issues, making the disorder challenging to diagnose. However, during your regularly scheduled exams and cleanings, our dentists take the time to carefully examine your jaw for signs of TMJ. If you do suffer from the condition, we can help manage your pain and realign your bite with individualized treatment options.
Since TMJ impacts the jaw, many of the symptoms associated with the disorder emerge around the immediate region near the jaw. These symptoms can include:
- Sounds of grinding, popping or clicking when opening or shutting the mouth
- Jaw pain
- Swelling around the jaw
While several signs of TMJ manifest near the jaw, it’s important to understand that many symptoms may not seem to be related to jaw malfunction at all. These may include:
- Postural changes
- Eye pain and pressure
- Ringing in the ear without infection
- General facial pain
- Neck pain
- Shoulder pain
- Bach aches
- Chronic headaches
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, our experienced dentists can help determine if TMJ syndrome is responsible. If you have been diagnosed with TMJ, we will design a customized treatment plan to restore alignment in your jaw and provide long-lasting relief.
When you visit Arlington Dental Aesthetics or South Riding Smiles for a TMJ diagnosis, you’ll receive the full attention of our skilled dentists. In addition to utilizing advanced technology available at our offices, diagnosing TMJ syndrome relies largely on identifying evidence of irritation and strain on your temporomandibular joint.
That irritation and strain are always the culprit behind TMJ, but treating the condition involves correctly diagnosing the specific cause of strain. These causes can include:
- Poor posture
- A jaw or bite alignment problem
- Teeth grinding
In cases of TMJ pain, pinpointing the cause of the issue is critical. If a TMJ diagnosis is not paired with a clear understanding of how the problem developed in the first place, structural misalignment may persist even if aspects such as clenching and grinding are addressed.
When your jaw is misaligned, the temporomandibular joint can become dysfunctional, making it difficult to properly open and close your mouth, often resulting in TMJ disorder. At Arlington Dental Aesthetics and South Riding Smiles, we use the K7 Neuromuscular Evaluation System to help provide the best possible treatment for your TMJ.
The K7 Neuromuscular Evaluation System is a sophisticated computer system that incorporates three medical instruments to precisely determine the most relaxed position for your jaw. This helps our skilled dentists identify your ideal bite position and design a treatment plan that is customized specifically for you.
The K7 system includes the following three instruments:
- Electrosonography: Analyzes the grinding, popping and clicking sounds emitted from your jaw when it is in motion through the use of precise directional microphones.
- Electromyography (EMG): Determines the extent to which your muscles are being strained due to jaw misalignment by recording the electrical impulses emitted by your jaw muscles.
- Computerized mandibular scanner: Measures the speed at which your jaw opens and closes by monitoring your jaw movement in three dimensions.
Unfortunately, many patients often first seek erroneous forms of treatment because the painful symptoms caused by TMJ are experienced in other regions of the body. Using K7 technology, our dentists can perform a comprehensive TMJ examination to uncover the cause of common TMJ symptoms such as tinnitus, vertigo and pain behind or around the eyes.
Not all headaches are related to the temporomandibular joint. In fact, some headaches have no identifiable cause at all, making them difficult to effectively treat. Generally speaking, most headaches fall into one of three broad categories:
- Cranial neuralgias, facial pain and other headaches
- Primary headaches, including migraines, tension and cluster headaches
- Secondary headaches, which can be signs of other issues such as brain injuries, brain tumors, encephalitis and meningitis
Of the types of headaches listed above, headaches that may be linked to TMJ dysfunction include:
- Cranial neuralgias and facial pain
- Migraine-like headaches
- Sinus headaches
- Tension headaches
More than 90 percent of the population is occasionally affected by primary headaches, which can be triggered or worsened by TMJ disorder. This type of headache is caused because the temporomandibular joint is misaligned, leading to muscle tension and headaches.
Sleep apnea varies from minor to severe, depending on how often your breathing is interrupted while you sleep each night. Most people don’t realize they have sleep apnea, so it’s usually their loved ones who notice at first. Daytime symptoms include exhaustion, cognitive disruption, and headaches. However, your sleep apnea may actually be TMD or linked to it.
Some researchers have linked TMJ disorder to sleep apnea and chronic pain. This is mainly due to the headache link. Head pain can arise for hundreds of reasons. Some research suggests that sleep-disordered breathing—which includes sleep apnea and snoring—is connected to migraines, cluster headaches, and other headache disorders along with TMJ. Your sleep apnea could have been mistaken for a TMJ disorder, or they could be comorbid (simultaneous disorders).
The Journal of Dental Research discovered 73 percent of patients involved in their study with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) also had an increase in TMJ disorder symptoms. More research is required to prove this link exists, but patients with OSA could benefit from a neuromuscular exam with our TMJ dentist.
When the teeth fail to form an optimal bite, it can lead to an unintentional grinding or clenching of the teeth. This subconscious activity can cause pain in the musculature of the neck, face and head.
Bruxism, the condition of chronic teeth grinding, is a destructive habit that negatively impacts your teeth as well as your oral joints and musculature. Your teeth wear down. Your tooth’s enamel flakes off at the gum line. The forces of bruxism can cause your teeth to shift or crack.
Our experienced dentists will design a customized treatment plan that will align your bite. Not only will this help you to stop grinding your teeth and alleviate your TMJ pain, it will reduce your risk of developing other health conditions related with bruxism.
The jaw is entwined in a complex network of muscles and nerves. When your bite isn’t aligned properly, several nerves throughout the head, including the ears, can be impacted. This is because of the trigeminal nerve, which affects all the muscles in this region, including two significant ear muscles.
Many patients who struggle with TMJ report ear ringing (tinnitus). Although this is a common occurrence when the jaw is misaligned, this symptom is often misdiagnosed and isn’t properly treated.
If our dentists determine that TMJ is responsible for your tinnitus, we can help by stabilizing the jaw and restoring it to its ideal resting position.
The most effective TMJ treatments are customized to address your unique situation. Depending on the cause and intensity of your TMJ dysfunction, our dentists may recommend treatment options such as:
- Prescription or over-the-counter pain medication
- Custom orthotic to relieve pressure on the temporomandibular joint and reposition your bite
- Muscle exercises
- Transcutaneous Electrical Neural Stimulation (TENS) therapy to relax the muscles of the head and neck
The first step in treating TMJ is to alleviate your symptoms. Once this has been completed, a plan for long-term relief can be designed to address the underlying cause of your bite misalignment. This may be achieved through:
TMJ treatment can often be complex because it involves interactions of the facial joints, ligaments and muscles. If you suffer from TMJ disorder, it is important to work with a dentist who understands the crucial relationship between the jaw joint and the rest of the body and who knows how to restore systemic health and function.
Our experienced dentists understand these systemic connections and are able to provide a variety of treatment options for TMJ, customized uniquely for your individual circumstances.
Few dentists are as knowledgeable and skilled at identifying and treating issues related to the temporomandibular joint as those who have trained at the Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Dental Studies (LVI). The dentists at Arlington Dental Aesthetics and South Riding Smiles are LVI-trained and uniquely qualified to treat your TMJ.