Ideally, the only snap, crackle and pop that you hear involves your morning bowl of cereal. However, for those afflicted with Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (also called TMJ or TMD), crackling may not just be from cereal.
There are about 35 million sufferers of TMJ in the United States, including famous names like Leanne Rimes and Iggy Izalea. Although experts are not entirely sure of the TMJ’s cause, the resulting pain and dysfunction in the jaw joint is indisputable. The disorder causes an array of symptoms, including:
- ear pain
- neck pain
- vision problems
- tired feeling in face
- swelling on one side of the face
- a clicking or popping sound in the jaw
- jaws that catch or lock
Further, if left untreated, long-term TMJ may compromise facial symmetry. As those afflicted with TMJ often have a preference for chewing on one side of the mouth, uneven musculature in the jaw and uneven wear on teeth can result. Additionally, the joint can erode on one side and subsequently decrease in height. These factors may lead the jaw to appear asymmetrical, or sloping with the chin pulling towards one side.
So, how does one treat TMD? A dentist can evaluate for TMJ and may recommend treatment via a stabilization splint or bite guard, which is made of hard acrylic resin and fits over the upper or lower teeth. Alternately, another type of oral appliance called a mandibular repositioning splint (MORA), is a more invasive type of splint that is used to put the jaw into a new position.
Most importantly, it is critical to discuss TMJ treatment with a dentist, and to fully understand the risks and benefits. For instance, while a MORA may alleviate jaw pain, it can also cause permanent changes to the bite. And those prone to jaw clenching and tooth grinding may find that a splint treatment encourages those behaviors. Other treatments to be considered carefully include the following:
- orthodontics treatment to change the bite
- crown and bridge work
- grinding down teeth (occlusal adjustment)
- Botox injections
- steroid injections