Ouch! It’s a common word and nearly universally understood as an indication that someone has just experienced an unexpected pain. But sometimes this common word leaves your own mouth, just because you opened it. Like so many other unexpected twinges and tingles and tiny surprise pains, a brief jab of discomfort when you open your mouth to speak is more than likely not something to worry about. Or is it?
What is TMJ?
With the advent of texting, many of us are now familiar with the use of letters to represent words: LOL (laughing out loud), OMG (oh, my goodness), and DYK (do you know) are a few of the often seen combinations. The combination TMJ serves the same purpose for a condition that the American Dental Association says affects about 15% of Americans.
TMJ is the common – and more easily said – name for the temporomandibular joint. You may not have heard of this joint until now, but the temporomandibular joint is what lets you speak, eat, yawn, whistle – in short, it’s the key to using your mouth.
The TMJ works like the hinges on a door: as a sliding connector from your jawbone to your skull. You have one on each side of your head, and they include muscles and ligaments that work with your upper and lower jawbone. Each TMJ consists of a ball and socket, and each has a disc between these two parts. The disc is what lets your jaw open wide, rotate, or glide, and cushions the load on the joint so all the action of your jaw is painless. Until it isn’t.
What is TMJ pain and what causes it?
TMJ disorders can produce a range of symptoms. You may experience pain or tenderness in your jaw or where the TMJ joins your skull. This may happen at any time, but is often experienced during biting, chewing, or yawning. Headaches and migraines, facial discomfort, and ear pain can sometimes be caused by TMJ problems, as well as pain in your neck, shoulders, or back. And, of course, there’s that annoying clicking or popping when you open your mouth. In some cases, your jaw may even lock up, making it difficult to open or close your mouth.
Like the symptoms of TMJ disorders, these problems can also have several causes. Injury to the jaw is an obvious potential source for TMJ pain, but more common causes are arthritis, your tooth-jaw alignment, and teeth grinding. Even an unexplained loose tooth may be caused by a TMJ problem. Fortunately, though, while TMJ pain can be annoying, it’s usually occasional and temporary; and even if symptoms persist, you’re unlikely to need any kind of aggressive treatment. Most of the time, slight TMJ discomfort will go away on its own, without dental or medical intervention. Learn more about TMJ treatments at Lifetime Dental Health here.
What can I do if I have a TMJ disorder?
What to do about TMJ problems depends on their cause. Currently, there is little scientific data that shows any one particular treatment for TMJ disorders works best, but the place to start is with a firm diagnosis. To check for possible TMJ problems, we will examine your jaw joint and jaw muscles for tenderness, clicking, difficulty in moving, or loss of the normal range of motion of your jaw. Depending on our findings we may refer you to a medical professional. Most often, however, we find that you can alleviate your jaw pain at home using some simple “less is often best” remedies based on recommendations from the National Institute of Dental and Cranial Research:
Eating softer foods
Avoiding gum chewing and nail-biting
Using heat/ice packs on the painful areas
Taking non-aspirin NSAIDs
Resting your jaw and controlling jaw tension
Not surprisingly, teeth grinding is a significant cause of TMJ disorders. And you can be grinding your teeth even if you don’t realize you’re doing it. People often grind their teeth at night while they’re sleeping – usually because of stress – and this is difficult to cure with lifestyle changes. If we find that grinding your teeth is causing your TMJ, you may need to wear a mouth guard to help relax your muscles, so you reduce grinding and protect your teeth from unnecessary wear. We would create an impression of your teeth and custom create your mouth guard. Such guards are long-lasting, giving you 3 to 10 years of comfortable sleep and healthier teeth.
Severe cases of TMJ can sometimes require more extensive treatments, such as fixing an uneven bite by adjusting or reshaping some teeth. Orthodontic treatment may be appropriate in certain cases. The ways to control TMJ are as varied as its causes.
At Lifetime Health Dental, we’re committed to caring for your oral health throughout your lifetime, serving your dental needs from childhood to old age, from check-ups to braces, and beyond. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of TMJ, we encourage you to contact our office for an appointment specifically to explore what may be causing your symptoms and how we can help you remedy them.
Here’s a statistic that you may not be aware of: one of the most common chronic diseases among children in the United States is tooth decay. According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly half of all children have some tooth decay – that is, some cavities – by the time they reach kindergarten. This is well before children have their adult teeth, and too early for many parents to even imagine that they might need a dentist. So, what’s a parent to do? To get your children’s teeth off to a good start, the first order of business is finding a family dentist who can help you. At Lifetime Dental Health, we understand.
Why do children need a dentist?
You don’t question why regular dental check-ups are important for you. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that they’re as important – perhaps more important – for your children. Just as good dental hygiene helps you stay healthy, good dental care can help your children grow up healthier, with strong teeth and fewer cavities (or none at all).
It’s easy to think that, because a child still has only baby teeth, dental checkups – and even good dental hygiene at home – can wait until he or she has permanent teeth. This simply isn’t a good idea. Baby teeth aren’t forever, but they will be your child’s teeth until around the age of five or six. A lot can happen in five or six years, including a lot of tooth decay.
Yes, tooth decay can happen to baby teeth. If baby teeth develop cavities, your child could be in pain (and not know why). And if those cavities aren’t treated, his or her permanent teeth could be negatively affected. Untreated tooth decay, even in early childhood, can lead to other dental and medical problems in adult life.
It’s that simple; and preventing those problems is just as simple. Starting your child on a regular program of dental checkups early in life helps to set that child up for a healthy set of permanent teeth. When teeth are healthy, children can chew food easily, learn to talk more quickly, and speak more clearly. And of course, children with good teeth also smile with confidence.
When should a child start seeing a dentist?
Briefly stated: the sooner, the better. The sooner children begin regular dental care, the healthier their mouths will be for their lifetime. In fact, the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that children should visit a dentist at least once by the time they reach their first birthday, or when the first baby tooth appears. You’ll want to schedule a “well-baby” dental checkup within the first 18 months or so of your child’s life. At such a visit, your child’s teeth and gums will be examined to make sure they’re developing as they ought to be and that no dental problems are present.
At Lifetime Dental Health, we are also happy to discuss with you how best to handle your child’s at-home dental hygiene. We’ll explain ways to maintain your children’s teeth that are similar to how you take care of your own: the proper way to brush (and the right brush to use), how to floss and how often, and anything you need to know based on the specific condition of your child’s teeth. At a young age, most children can’t really handle good oral care by themselves, so you may need to guide them along – or, when they’re very young, do it for them. Fortunately, we have some helpful ideas for making this a pleasant experience for both of you – maybe even fun.
In addition to setting the stage for healthy adult teeth, introducing children to dental care as early as possible can go a long way toward eliminating the fear of dentists that some children experience when their first time in a dentist’s chair includes lots of uncomfortable scraping and the scary sound of a dental drill.
What problems could a young child’s teeth have?
Your child’s baby teeth are important because certain stages of a child’s development are dependent on dental health. At Lifetime Dental Health, our goal for your child is the same as our goal for you: to find and fix problems early and do the best we can to avoid additional problems in the future. Catching decay in its early stages means fewer and smaller cavities. If caught early enough, it may even be able to be stopped.
One specific issue that dentists come across often is dental decay caused by a child falling asleep while drinking a bottle of milk or fruit juice. As harmless as it may seem, this simple activity often generates tooth decay. That’s why we emphasize encouraging children to drink from a cup as they near their first birthday, and discontinuing nighttime breastfeeding after baby’s teeth emerge. Most dentists agree that a child should never go to sleep while nursing or with juice or milk in their bottle.
In addition to fighting tooth decay and instilling good lifelong dental habits, regular checkups also help to detect oral diseases in a timely fashion. Treating diseases in their early stages can keep them from getting worse, and, not unexpectantly, is likely to cost less than it would later.
For all of these reasons, finding a dental home for your children is an integral step in caring for your family. We at Lifetime Dental Health are here to help, right from the start. To talk to one of our dental professionals or to make your first appointment, contact us. We’ll be happy to serve you and your little ones.
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