It’s okay to start with home care when you first notice the symptoms of TMJ. Start by resting your jaw. This can mean talking less, eating a soft food diet, and stopping habits like chewing gum or nonfood objects like fingernails or pens. Apply heat to sore muscles, and ice to sore joints or other inflamed areas. Take over-the-counter pain medication.
For many people, a week of this treatment is all that’s necessary to put TMJ behind you. But if your TMJ symptoms don’t improve or if they worsen, it’s important to see your doctor or a TMJ dentist quickly. Here’s why.
Your Jaw Joint May Be Experiencing Damage
One common effect of TMJ is damage to the jaw joint. The joint may have become dislocated, which means that the cushioning disc isn’t properly in place between the two bones. Often, you’ll notice a popping or clicking in the jaw joint if this is the case, but not always.
When the cushioning disc is out of place, the bones grind against one another, causing significant damage that cannot be repaired. If this persists, the only viable treatment option will be surgery. TMJ surgery is expensive, uncomfortable, and not as successful as we would like.
The sooner you get treatment, the more likely you can prevent damage to your joints and hopefully avoid the need for surgery.
Tooth Damage Is Progressive
But TMJ doesn’t just put pressure on your joints. It puts pressure on your teeth, too. Clenching and grinding, biting down too hard, having irregular chewing motions, and imbalanced forces can all lead to accelerated wear on your teeth.
The longer you postpone TMJ treatment, the more likely it is that you will experience significant tooth damage. This can be cracking or chipping of individual teeth. It may also be a general wear of teeth, causing them to shrink and exposing the sensitive interior of the teeth. Or it may be a combination of both. Early treatment might mean that you need few restorations, but waiting until later can set you up for a full mouth reconstruction.
You Can Pick up Bad Habits
Our chewing method is not something that we learn once and maintain. It’s a process that is constantly being reinforced by our bodies. If you experience pain or have difficulty chewing in the old way, your body will adapt to a new pattern. Once you pick up these habits, it can be hard to reverse them even after your TMJ is treated.
In the meantime, these habits can contribute to tooth damage.
You Can Develop Sensitization
One of the big obstacles to treating TMJ is that people can develop what is known as sensitization. In sensitization, your body responds to repeated instances of pain by coming to anticipate the pain. Eventually, it begins to experience even nonpainful experiences as pain. Just a simple touch becomes painful. As do the normal sensations of jaw motion.The result is chronic pain out of proportion with the stimuli that cause them.
Once sensitization occurs, we don’t have a good way to treat it. The best approach is to avoid sensitization by getting TMJ treated before the accumulated pain sensations cause your nerves to become sensitive. And once your body develops sensitization, it may put you at risk for conditions related to TMJ, such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) or fibromyalgia.
Don’t Put off TMJ Treatment
It’s definitely worthwhile to try home care for TMJ first. But if home care doesn’t work, it’s important to get treatment quickly. If you are looking for TMJ treatment in the Detroit area, please call (248) 825-8277 today for an appointment with TMJ dentist Dr. Jeffrey S. Haddad at the Michigan Center for TMJ & Sleep Wellness.