The most common and obvious symptom of TMJ is jaw pain. Some people suffer from jaw pain periodically, perhaps as a result of chewing or even just talking. For others, jaw pain is a constant companion throughout their day regardless of the activity. No matter when your jaw pain decides to rear its head, it’s disruptive and uncomfortable. But there’s good news: It’s also treatable.
How Does TMJ Cause Jaw Pain?
The joint that TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder) is named for serves as a connection point between the lower jaw and the rest of the skull. The joint sits just before the ear — in fact, you can feel it working with your fingers.
There are a few different ways that TMJ can result in jaw pain. The most common cause is inflammation of the ligaments of the joint, although damage to those same ligaments can also occur and cause pain. The tension and repetitive movement in the jaw that are characteristic of the disorder put intense strain on those ligaments, making their risk of inflammation or tearing very high.
What is TENS Therapy?
If you suffer from TMJ, you may have already heard about TENS therapy. TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. The battery-powered TENS device is connected to the skin with two electrodes, creating a circuit along which a low-voltage electrical current can travel.
This mild current helps jaw pain by relaxing the muscles in the jaw, providing pain relief by allowing the jaw to rest in the position of least tension (as opposed to the high-tension bite that a TMJ sufferer normally has). For some people, periodic TENS treatments are enough to reduce their TMJ pain or discomfort and can be an effective treatment plan on their own. But for those who need a more aggressive line of treatment, TENS serves another purpose: That of a diagnostic tool.
When the TENS device allows your jaw to move to its healthiest position, the position that puts the least tension on the joints, it allows your dentist to map your ideal bite. This provides the perfect template on which to design a treatment plan. Often this is the only way to look at how your jaw functions without interference from the habits you have acquired to deal with a dysfunctional bite.
For many TMJ patients, an orthotic device can help alleviate the malocclusion, or “bad bite,” that creates pain and stress in the jaw. This device, also sometimes called a bite splint, is similar to an athlete’s mouthguard. Its purpose is to hold your jaw in that relaxed position that the TENS treatment revealed. An experienced neuromuscular dentist can ensure that your orthotic device is custom crafted to fit your bite and your needs.
If treatment with an orthotic device is effective, some TMJ patients may want to consider getting reconstructive dentistry work done to achieve the same bite-changing result on a more permanent basis.