The Truth about TMD


Partner Content Homewood Family & Cosmetic Dentistry LLC

Article by Denise K. James

Photography by Provided

Have you ever woken up with soreness around your teeth or jaws — maybe even a headache or ear pain? You aren’t alone; temporomandibular disorders, which cause pain and malfunction of the jaw joints and muscles, are very common. Known oftentimes as TMJ (a bit of a misnomer because everyone has a temporomandibular joint), the disorder typically affects patients during the night while they sleep and results in grinding and clenching the teeth, or bruxism. 

According to Drs. Vail and Webb at Homewood Family & Cosmetic Dentistry, at least 80% of their patients have TMD, but they often are not aware of it. However, symptoms such as joint and muscle pain can be harbingers of teeth, gums and bones suffering. 

“It’s like water on a rock — it doesn’t seem like it’ll make a change, but look at the Grand Canyon,” says Dr. Vail. “Unfortunately, in this case, the result is worn teeth. If you squeeze or grind your teeth, the force creates a reaction in that muscle just like going to the gym and doing a bicep curl. When the muscle gets bigger, it gets stronger. But that’s not good because the effects are worse.”

Drs. Webb and Vail are able to diagnose patients with TMD troubles during regular hygiene visits. “Sensitivity of the teeth, health of the gums— a million things point to it,” says Dr. Vail. “The force is not only wearing down teeth but also bones and tissues. Those are the initial things we look for.”

If signs of wear and tear due to TMD are discovered, don’t worry; treatment is surprisingly simple. A custom guard is the first solution, and wearing it at night becomes second nature soon enough, assure the dentists. First, an impression of the patient’s own mouth is taken with a digital scan. It’s sent to a lab to create a customized version that fits the patient, relieves the pressure on teeth, gums and bones and ultimately keeps the muscles from bearing down as hard. 

Patients can get used to their new guards slowly; Drs. Webb and Vail advise starting just a few nights per week. But like most nighttime rituals, it soon sticks. And the results are worth it. 

“As you get used to it, you can’t sleep without it,” says Dr. Vail. “And you realize how much better you feel in the morning. It’s an affordable treatment as well— you can wear the same one for years.”

“Investing in a night guard may prevent you from possibly having root canals, crowns or even extractions due to cracked teeth, gum grafting due to recession, or TMJ surgery from chronic damage to the disc or joint,” explains Dr. Webb. “You know the old saying about an ounce of prevention!” 

A popular secondary treatment is to get Botox injections in the area, which relaxes overzealous muscles and helps prevent clenching. Still, Drs. Vail and Webb recommend starting with a guard, which often is all it takes to correct bruxism. 

“We don't like to inject Botox without the patient already using a guard,” notes Dr. Vail. “Botox weakens the muscle but doesn’t destroy or paralyze it. The two treatments work beautifully together.”

“Diagnosing and treating these disorders early with non-invasive treatments will save the patient time, money and significant pain down the road,” adds Dr. Webb.

To learn more, visit homewooddental.com. 

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