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TMJ Treatment - Oral Appliance Therapy - Houston, TX

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Overview

The Temporomandibular joint is  where your jaw connects to each side of your skull.  Each side is a complex joint that consists of one bone with two hinges that have to work in tandem with the teeth, and each other.  Each ball-and-socket hinge is cushioned with a slippery washer-like disc to enable smooth motion between the two bones. Occasionally, this joint, or the muscles that move the joint, can become injured or damaged, leading to what can be a painful condition called temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ). TMJ is also called temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). Temporomandibular joint pain is felt when the muscles, ligaments, structures and nerves in the area are aggravated and the joint is not being held in its most stable position. Pain may be specifically felt when one chews or when one opens wide and experiences a clicking, cracking, or popping of the jaw.

Patients may also experience

  • headaches or migraines
  • face or neck pain 
  • ear canal issues or ringing in the ears
  • low back pain
  • tooth wear or damage
  • teeth grinding or bruxism
  •  dislocation of the joints which may keep the patient from opening or closing
  • popping or clicking noises

If the condition  escalates. Dr. Neela Patel  conservatively treats patients with TMJ or TMD in Houston, TX at Houston Heights Dentistry. 

Best Candidates

A candidate for TMJ/TMD treatments is anyone who presents with any of the above conditions. Contributing factors you may be dealing with include poor posture in the neck and upper back muscles, everyday stress causing jaw clenching, women between 18 – 44,  inflammatory chronic arthritis,  taking prescription anti-anxiety medicines,  jaw trauma or poorly positioned teeth, or a genetic predisposition to pain sensitivity and stress. Candidates may also feel pain when pressure is applied to the joint itself or when they chew. Each temporomandibular joint, one on each side of your head, must work by itself as well as together, in tandem, so you can perform routine mouth functions such as chewing, yawning, swallowing and speaking.  Diagnosis and baseline data of all systems involved is an important step prior to any treatment.

What To Expect

A part of the comprehensive TMJ and bite examination you will receive at Houston Heights Dentistry,  Dr. Patel  will check the health of your jaw joints and muscles for tenderness, clicking, popping, or misalignments causing difficulty in opening and closing movements of your lower jaw. There are several recommendations for TMJ depending on what kind it is, how advanced it is, and your own personal conditions. "Less is more" is a rule of thumb in treating TMJ, so Dr. Patel will first discuss some best practices such as eating softer foods, avoiding chewing gum and biting your nails, posture awareness, and relaxation techniques along with oral appliance therapy.  An oral appliance or orthotic splint will be made for your specific bite and allow for optimal results.  This splint will need to be adjusted for a custom fit over a series of visits to ensure that the muscles involved are relieved, and relaxed, and the TMJ can heal. By wearing the splint, the pressures are taken off the jaw joints which allows symptoms of TMJ to dissipate.  Dr. Patel will also  coordinate treatment with a chiropractor, postural restoration therapist or craniosacral therapist to ensure that the neck and spine are aligned correctly for optimal results. Sometimes, in acute or severe attacks of pain, medications such as anti-inflammatories or muscle relaxers are prescribed.

Recovery

Depending on the condition of the TMJ bones, and the patient's bite, most symptoms can be resolved with appliance therapy within a few months. In rare cases, it never fully resolves. In this case, it may be a matter of learning better strategies for pain management along with long-term appliance therapy. It is important to start with the least invasive treatments and work your way up. For example, don’t open wide to eat, and cut food up into smaller pieces, eat softer foods, etc. Heat, relaxation, exercise, posture, sleep, and stress are all things to pay attention to., and  Dr. Patel may also recommend  that you see a different therapist to help with posture or alignment along with oral appliance therapy to reduce stress on the joints and the muscles involved in chewing. Her goal is to reduce further damage or stress in the joint mechanism and to reduce the clenching and grinding patterns so healing can take place. Treatment can significantly help in jaw alignment and relaxation. Since the teeth are involved, the bite may need to be realigned to the most optimal joint positions.  This may involved restoring worn teeth, occlusal equilibration, orthodontics, or rarely,surgery.

Insurance Coverage

The amount covered by insurance will depend on the necessary treatment and on your current policy. Prior to treatment, our financial coordinator will contact your insurance provider to establish any out-of-pocket costs. You can also talk to one of our administrative team about creating a financial plan to help make treatment more affordable. 

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Manage Your Pain

TMJ is a complex and painful situation. Since there are many possible causes, symptoms, and solutions, it can be confusing trying to determine next steps. Contact us for a consultation and Dr. Patel will be happy to help you with a thorough diagnostic process, and then provide much-needed clarity on how to best move forward. With TMJ, it’s all about patience — starting with basic treatments, ruling them out, and working your way up the treatment ladder. 

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*Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary from person to person. Images may contain models.