TMD (temporomandibular disorders), or TMJ (temporomandibular joint dysfunction), is a disorder that affects your temporomandibular joints. These joints connect the temporal bones in your skull to your jaw. The joints are usually located on either side of your ears. They enable you to move the jaw to open and close your mouth. These movements are necessary to eat, speak, yawn, chew, and bite. A problem with these joints will affect your jaw movement and your facial muscles. You will experience pain, soreness, and difficulties when opening and closing your mouth.

We diagnose and treat TMJ disorders in Aliso Viejo at South Coast Dentistry. Ours is a complete team of highly trained and experienced dentists who offer your entire family quality, affordable, and reliable general dentistry services. You can count on our care and support for excellent oral health and well-being.

Causes of TMJ Disorders

The actual cause of TMJ disorders is unknown, but dentists strongly believe that the symptoms you experience are due to issues with the jaw muscles or some regions of the jawbone. The dentist will first examine you to determine the actual location of your pain and other symptoms and recommend an appropriate treatment. If you have suffered an injury to your jaw, neck, or head from an accident or a severe blow, it could result in a TMJ disorder.

Here are the common causes of TMJ disorders:

Teeth Clenching or Grinding

Clenching your jaws or grinding your teeth puts unnecessary pressure on your jaw joint. Eventually, it could result in disorder. These are some of the habits people have that damage their teeth and cause other oral issues. Dentists always warn against clenching or grinding teeth.

Disc Movement

The disc between a joint socket and ball should remain intact for the joint to work as it should, with minimal resistance and pain. If the disc dislocates or the soft cushion in your joint socket moves, you could experience soreness and pain due to the resulting joint disorder.

Joint Arthritis

Arthritis is the tenderness or swelling of a joint. Its main symptoms include stiffness and pain. If you have arthritis in the temporomandibular joint, it could result in a TMJ disorder.

Stress and/or Anxiety

If you have stress or anxiety and it causes you to clench or grind your teeth or tighten your jaw and facial muscles, it could result in a TMJ disorder.

Typical Symptoms of a TMJ Disorder

You will experience severe symptoms if you have TMJ disorder, including discomfort and pain. The severity of your symptoms and how long they last will depend on whether you have a temporary condition or one that lasts for many years. The severity of your symptoms will also depend on whether you have the disorder on one side or both.

Note: TMJ disorders are commonly reported in adults aged between twenty and forty.

Here are some of the indications that you could have a TMJ disorder. If you suspect you have the condition, it is advisable to visit your dentist immediately for a proper diagnosis and treatment:

  • Tenderness or pain in the face, neck, and jaw-joint. The pain could extend to your shoulders and sometimes in and around the ears when speaking, opening your mouth, or chewing,
  • Difficulties opening your mouth, especially when yawning
  • Your jaws lock or become stuck in a closed- or open-mouth position
  • A clicking, grating, or popping sound in the jaw when opening or closing your mouth or chewing. The sound could be accompanied by some pain or not.
  • Feeling tired in the face
  • Difficulties chewing or eating. You could have an unexpected, uncomfortable, or painful bite when you bite down.
  • Toothaches
  • Earaches
  • Swelling on one or both sides of the face
  • Tinnitus or a ringing sound in the ears that could cause you problems in hearing
  • Migraines or headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Tingling or numbness in the fingers
  • Pain in the upper shoulders or neck

How Dentists Diagnose TMJ Disorders

Most dental and oral conditions have symptoms similar to TMJ disorders, including sinus problems, tooth decay, gum disease, and arthritis. Thus, it is impossible to tell your exact problem until a dentist examines your teeth, gums, and jawbone to determine the actual cause of your symptoms. They will also review your treatment history.

The dentist will examine your joints for tenderness and pain during your physical examination. They will also listen for clicking, grating, or popping sounds if you move your jaw joints. The dentist will check how well your jaws work and if they lock after closing or opening your mouth. They will also test how you bite and whether you have facial muscle issues. When checking your bite, the dentist will determine how perfectly your upper and lower teeth come together when you bite down.

A physical examination is usually insufficient to determine your exact dental or oral problem. That is why dentists also conduct diagnostic testing using tools like CT scans and X-rays to check the condition of your underlying structures. The dentist can take an X-ray of your entire face to better view your teeth, jaws, and TMJs. The examination results will help them rule out every other condition. The dentist can conduct further examinations using a CT scan or MRI.

An MRI exam will show the condition of the TMJ discs and whether or not they are in their proper position when you move your jaw. On the other hand, a CT scan will give them a detailed picture of your joints.

Sometimes dentists or doctors conduct arthroscopy of the TMJ to diagnose TMJ disorders. It is a surgical procedure in which the dentist inserts a minor tube or cannula and a camera or arthroscopy near the affected jaw joint to have a closer view of that area and give an accurate diagnosis.

Once the dentist is aware of the exact condition of your TMJs, they can refer you to a surgeon for treatment and care. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons have specialized in treating conditions affecting your face and the surrounding areas, including the aw area and mouth. Your dentist can also refer you to an orthodontist after treatment to ascertain if your teeth, joints, and muscles function as they should.

Managing TMJ Disorders at Home

You can try some home remedies before and after diagnosis to relieve some of the symptoms you experience with a TMJ disorder. You could try a few of these treatments concurrently for effective relief:

Use Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

Your dentist can suggest taking over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen and naproxen to relieve swelling and muscle pain.

Try Cold and Hot Packs

Moist cold or hot packs work well when applied to the affected facial side or temple area. Using cold or hot packs for ten minutes with each application is advisable. Try stretching your jaws if the dentist is okay with it. Once you are done with stretching, hold a cold or warm washcloth or towel to the affected side for five minutes. This can be done a few times a day for maximum relief.

Use Only Soft Foods

If you experience pain or difficulties chewing or biting, you should try soft food until you are completely healed from the TMJ disorder. For example, you can try mashed potatoes, yogurt, cooked fruits, fish, scrambled eggs, soup, beans, grains, and vegetables. You could also cut your food into smaller pieces to make it easier to chew. Avoid crunchy, hard foods like raw carrots and pretzels and chewy ones like taffy and caramels if possible.

Minimize Jaw Movements

You can maintain minimal jaw movements until you can comfortably move your joints. When you chew or yawn, keep your movements to a minimum to reduce your pain. Avoid anything that will cause you to open your mouth wide.

Maintain Good Posture

Good posture is encouraged to minimize pain, reduce soreness, and avoid aggravating the matter. Additionally, you could avoid resting your chin on the hand or holding the phone between the ear and your shoulder. Your facial and neck pain will reduce once you practice proper posture.

Keep Your Jaw Slightly Apart

If your jaw locks every time you bite, you could keep your upper and lower jaws slightly apart to avoid pain when speaking or eating. Doing so could also reduce pressure on the jaw. If you habitually clench or grind your teeth, putting the tongue between the teeth can help.

Practice Relaxation Techniques

If you have a TMJ disorder because you have been anxious or stressed, relaxation techniques could minimize pressure on your jaw muscles. Your dentist can recommend massage or physical therapy to loosen your jaw muscles. Some people find biofeedback and stress reduction therapy helpful. It could be time to stop if you habitually chew hard items like pencils, pens, gum, and ice when stressed.

Change Your Behavior

Your dentist can recommend some behavioral changes that could help manage TMD. For example, you could practice some sleeping positions that will relieve your pain since sleeping on the stomach could worsen the disorder. Some changes in your posture could help. If you habitually use your teeth to open bottles or cans, the dentist will advise you to stop.

Treatment for TMJ Disorders

Some TMJ disorders disappear with time after practicing some of the home therapies mentioned above. However, some require actual treatment. Your dentist will advise you on your treatment options after a diagnosis. You can combine treatment with home therapy for quick and more effective pain management. Here are some of the treatments the dentist will recommend for your TMJ disorder:

Medical Treatment

The dentist will recommend medical treatment to relieve swelling and pain. A higher dose of NSAIDs could help manage the severe symptoms of a TMJ disorder. In low doses, a muscle relaxer or anti-anxiety medicine could also help if you clench or grind your teeth when stressed or anxious. They also manage pain and swelling. You will need a prescription to obtain most of these medications, including antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and muscle relaxants.

A Night Guard or Splint

Night guards, or splints, are plastic tools you fit in your lower and upper teeth to prevent them from touching. They reduce the effect of teeth grinding or clenching. They can also correct your bad bite by positioning your teeth in their rightful places. A night guard will help as you sleep. A splint can help anytime. Your dentist will recommend the appropriate one according to your needs.

Dental Work

If you have a TMJ disorder because of a bad bite, your dentist can recommend dental work to correct the cause of your bad bite. For example, if you have a bad bite because some of your teeth are missing, a dental bridge or crown can replace the missing teeth and balance your biting surfaces.

Treating More Severe Cases of TMJ Disorders

The above treatments will not be sufficient to treat a more severe case of TMJ disorder. Your dentist can suggest a more intensive treatment if the recommended treatment does not produce the expected result. Here are other treatments for TMJ disorders:

Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation

It is a type of therapy whereby the dentist uses a low-level electric current to relieve your pain. The current relaxes facial muscles and jaw joints. You can undergo this treatment at home or in the dentist’s office.


Your dentist can also apply deep heat to the problematic joint to relieve soreness and pain and improve jaw movement.

Trigger-Point Injection

Your dentist can inject anesthesia or pain medication into the sore or tender muscles for pain relief.

RadioWave Therapy

Dentists perform this therapy by using radio waves to stimulate the problematic joint. Through stimulation, increased blood flow at the treatment site eases the pain and promotes healing.

Laser Therapy

Dentists also use laser therapy at low levels to minimize pain, soreness, and inflammation. After this treatment, you can quickly and freely open your mouth and move your neck.

Surgical Treatment for TMJ Disorders

Dentists recommend surgical treatment for TMDs as a last resort when all other treatments have failed to relieve your symptoms. Other specialists could be involved, like orthodontists, oral surgeons, prosthodontists, or otolaryngologists. If the dentists recommend surgical treatment, you will have three options. The choice you make will depend on the underlying problems:

Arthrocentesis Treatment

This option is recommended for people without a significant history of TMDs but whose jaws are locked. It is a minor surgery that an oral surgeon can perform in the dentist’s office. The dentists will first administer general anesthesia to keep you relaxed and comfortable during treatment.

The treatment process entails inserting needle-like tools into the treatment site and washing the joint. The surgeon can use a unique tool to remove damaged tissues and dislodge a stuck disc or joint.

Arthroscopy Treatment

Oral surgeons use an arthroscope to perform this treatment. An arthroscope is a unique tool with a light and lens on it. It allows the surgeon to view the inside of your joint for proper treatment. Dentists perform this procedure under general anesthesia. The surgeon will make small incisions to insert the arthroscope in front of the ear. They will hook the tool onto a live screen to examine the problematic joint and the surrounding area.

The surgeon can use this procedure to access and remove inflamed tissues or realign a joint or disc, depending on your exact problem.

Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure that leaves minimal scarring on the treatment site. It also has minimal complications and a shorter recovery period.

Open-Joint Operation

An open-joint operation will be necessary in cases where arthroscopy cannot help. It is an invasive surgical procedure that requires the surgeon to cut open the treatment site for easier access and more effective treatment. The surgeon will recommend this type of treatment under the following circumstances:

  • If your bone structures in the jaw joint area have worn down,
  • If you have muscle growths or tumors around or in the joint,
  • If the joint has bone chips or is scarred

Before treatment, the surgeon will administer general anesthesia for pain and discomfort. They will then cut open the problematic joint to access and obtain a better view of the joint. Treatment can take a longer time, after which the surgeon will stitch you up. This is an invasive procedure that could take you a longer time to heal. You will also have significant scarring and could sustain a nerve injury after treatment.

Find an Experienced Aliso Viejo General Dentist Near Me

Pain, soreness, numbness, and discomfort are common oral or dental problems symptoms. You should contact a dentist immediately if you experience one or more of these symptoms. If you have a TMJ disorder, your dentist will thoroughly examine your teeth, gums, jawbone, and jaw joint to diagnose it correctly.

Our general dentists at South Coast Dentistry have extensive experience in treating TMJ disorders. We examine you, rule out any other condition, and review your treatment history before developing a treatment plan. We also discuss your treatment options and guide you in making an informed decision. Call us at 949-274-9086 if you suspect a TMJ disorder in Aliso Viejo for quality and affordable treatment and care.