Painful jaw joints, popping and cracking sounds, stiffness, facial pain and headaches: These are some of the common symptoms of temporomandibular disorder (TMD). Dentists call the jaw joint the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), and when this area just in front of the ears suffers strain, TMD is one of the potential results. For some patients, braces can help reduce strain on the jaw joints, alleviating the symptoms of TMD.
The Temporomandibular Joint
The TMJ is a complex joint that's connected to many facial muscles and nerves. One of the causes of problems with the jaw joint is misalignment between the upper and lower teeth when they meet. While some patients don't feel any effects from a misaligned bite, for others, the strain transfers to the jaw joint and facial muscles, causing TMD. Other TMD causes and associated risk factors include arthritis, teeth grinding and jaw injuries, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Noninvasive treatments are usually a dentist's first choice when it comes to treating TMD. The reason for this conservative approach is that many cases of TMD resolve themselves over time or with the help of small lifestyle changes. As the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research notes, dentists often advise patients to eat soft foods and take over-the-counter painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications, as well as to reduce stress, which could be causing teeth grinding and muscle tension.
While attempting conservative TMD treatments, patients often find it painful to open their mouths wide to brush their teeth. They can maintain their oral health care, however, by brushing with a toothbrush like the Colgate 360° Total Advanced Floss-Tip Bristles toothbrush, whose raised tip helps clean hard-to-reach areas of the mouth. If patients don't see an improvement in their TMD symptoms after dietary adjustments, medication and lifestyle changes, dentists may suggest that it's time to move on to more rigorous treatments like splints, braces and even surgery.
Braces to Treat the TMJ
As the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center explains, braces are one of a range of TMD treatments that can improve the function and alignment of the jaw. Splints, physical therapy and occlusal adjustment are some other options. Braces, an option to treat TMJ, gradually adjust the position of teeth and correct misaligned bites. When the teeth meet correctly, the jaw joint should no longer be under any strain, and the TMD symptoms should ease. However, the Maryland Medical Center points out that orthodontic treatments like braces and headgear can actually cause TMD in the first place, so it's wise to consult with dentists and orthodontists early to best understand treatment options and their consequences.
Though TMD often resolves itself without treatment, sometimes the condition doesn't go away or the severity of the symptoms lessens the patient's quality of life. Where other treatments have failed, braces could be the answer to prolonged cases of TMD. A dentist experienced in treating TMD can advise whether or not braces to treat the TMJ are a suitable treatment for a given patient's TMD.