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Exploring the Treatment of and Reasons for TMJ Disorder in Older Adults

On May 24, 2017

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Have you been experiencing headaches? Does your jaw pop when you chew your food? Is there buzzing in your ear? You may have thought all these symptoms were unrelated, but in fact you may be suffering from a temporomandibular joint disorder, commonly referred to as TMJ or TMD.

This disorder can cause severe pain that radiates beyond your jaw. TMJ is common in older adults. In fact, roughly 15 percent of adults will suffer from TMJ disorder during their lifetime.

Luckily, TMJ can be treated, and there are ways to lessen the severity of your symptoms as well. Here’s a look at what causes this disorder and how you can alleviate your discomfort.

What Causes TMJ Disorder?

Many things cause TMJ, which encompasses any type of jaw or jaw muscle pain. The causes tend to vary between different people, and most cases of TMJ differ quite a bit.

One of the most common causes of TMJ among mature adults is arthritis, which can cause inflammation in the jaw and make movement painful. If you have arthritis, TMJ may be at the root of your jaw problems.

Other things can also cause TMJ. The most common include:

  • – Bruxism, or grinding of the teeth: The constant pressure of the clenching of teeth can hurt the jaw
  • – Stress: People under a lot of stress tend to clench their teeth and tighten their facial muscles
  • – Genetics: You may be predisposed to TMJ based on the shape of your jaw or bite
  • – Injury: If you broke your jaw in the past, it may not have set properly, or your bite could be impacted

The cause could also be a combination of those factors and more. Sometimes a patient won’t ever know what exactly caused the TMJ.

Symptoms of TMJ in Older Adults

Just as there are many causes of TMJ, there are also many symptoms of the disorder among mature adults. In addition to the headaches, jaw popping and buzzing in the ear, symptoms can vary wildly from patient to patient.

Most people, however, do experience one symptom in common, and that’s pain in the jaw area. It could simply be a tenderness of the jaw or it may be a piercing pain. This discomfort often radiates to the neck, shoulders and ears.

Some people have trouble opening their mouths wide, while others feel pain when they speak or chew. Your face may feel tingly or tired. You could find your bite goes slightly off, with the mouth feeling as though it doesn’t close correctly.

Finally, some TMJ sufferers find their jaws become stuck in the open position, leading TMJ to erroneously be referred to as lockjaw, which is an entirely different disorder involving a tetanus infection. Jaws that get stuck open can signal your dentist to TMJ, and this can actually hasten diagnosis and treatment.

Other symptoms of TMJ disorder could include:

  • – Toothaches
  • – Earaches
  • – Dizziness
  • – Unexplained tooth sensitivity
  • – Late-morning peak of any of these symptoms

Diagnosing TMJ Disorder

Your dentist or physician can diagnose TMJ. They may reach their conclusion based on a comprehensive description of your symptoms combined with a physical exam. They may do X-rays in order to see your bite and eliminate other possible diagnoses. In addition, they could request an MRI or CT scan to get a better idea of how your bones fit together and where your TMJ disc is located.

Treatments for TMJ Disorder in Mature Adults

Once you have received our diagnosis, we can work with you on a treatment plan to alleviate and eventually eliminate your pain. You may try just one treatment at a time, or we may recommend you attempt several at once, depending on the severity of your symptoms. Here are a few options:

  • – Use an Anti-Inflammatory or Muscle Relaxers: Ibuprofen and other over-the-counter drugs can help decrease inflammation in your jaw. If something stronger is needed, we can prescribe muscle relaxers to give your jaw a break.
  • – Try Relaxation or Meditation: Relaxing your jaw can help decrease your pain. We may suggest practicing meditation or another relaxation technique to help your jaw soften and slacken.
  • – Get Orthodontic Treatment: Sometimes TMJ symptoms can be relieved by proper alignment of the teeth and jaw. Getting braces or other treatment can alleviate stress on the mouth.
  • – Buy a Mouth Guard: Using a mouth guard can reduce the pain from TMJ disorder. Oral splints may also be helpful in alleviating pressure.
  • – Reduce Stress: Yes, reducing stress can be easier said than done. You may be at an age where you have a lot to worry about, from nurturing your retirement nest egg to dealing with aging parents or grown children. You may want to consider antidepressants or counseling to help you get through a difficult time and relieve your anxiety.
  • – Undergo Surgery: If you have tried a number of treatment options and none seem to help, you may consider getting surgery. Options include minimally invasive procedures such as arthrocentesis or a more extensive option such as open-joint surgery.

Preventing TMJ Disorder in Older Adults

Treatment may lessen your symptoms, but TMJ can return. Using preventive techniques, you may be able to avoid or at least stave off a relapse. Try these ideas to keep TMJ at bay:

  • – Eat softer foods
  • – Practice good posture
  • – Periodically relax your jaw
  • – Avoid chewing hard substances, such as ice
  • – Do jaw stretches
  • – Stop grinding your teeth

With the right combination of treatment and preventive measures, you can make TMJ a bad memory. If you need assistance with diagnosis or easing your symptoms, contact Donoho Dental today via our online form or give us a call at 623-633-7356.

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