Serving Brentwood, Belle Meade and Green Hills Areas of Nashville TN

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, temporomandibular joint disorder (also known as TMJ disorder or TMD) is estimated to affect approximately 10 million Americans. Are you one of them? You or a loved one may suffer from TMJ disorder and not realize it because many sufferers never receive a diagnosis, and therefore, go untreated.

Let’s learn more about this disorder, and how your Nashville airway dentist Dr. Brian Devine can help.


What is TMJ disorder?

This refers to any dysfunction related to your temporomandibular joint, a small joint that connects your jaw to your skull on either side of your head. These joints control your jaw movement, working every time you eat, speak, and breathe.

Temporomandibular joint disorder is a result of a misaligned bite, but could be caused by the following:

  • Excess tension in either the facial muscles or jaw muscles
  • Arthritis in the temporomandibular joints
  • A dislocation of the disc between the ball and socket of the temporomandibular joint
  • Poor jaw development
  • Injury to the face or jaw
  • Missing teeth
  • Crooked or misaligned teeth
  • Bruxism, the clinical term for teeth grinding or teeth clenching

Problems associated with the temporomandibular joints often affect jaw function. This imbalance can cause problems throughout your body. This is why the specific symptoms of TMJ disorder can vary from person to person—and why making a correct diagnosis of TMJ disorder can be so difficult, even for an experienced medical professional such as a general physician.

One of the most commonly reported symptoms of TMJ disorder is pain. This pain often is severe and even debilitating, meaning that it impedes your ability to function daily. Pain might emanate from the jaws. It might take the form of dental pain that seems to migrate to different locations in the mouth for no apparent reason. In severe cases of untreated TMD, pain may radiate to the neck, back, and extremities.

TMJ disorder also can lead to painful headaches that occur regularly and may be misidentified as migraines. Have you been diagnosed with migraines but struggled to find relief from the frequency of your headaches? Are the remedies for your migraines only alleviating the severity of the headaches, but doing nothing to diminish how often they occur? If so, TMJ disorder could be the true cause of your headaches.

Other symptoms of TMJ disorder include:

  • Hearing a clicking or popping sound as your jaws open and close
  • Experiencing a limited range of motion in the jaws, up to and including lockjaw
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Bruxism
  • Teeth that are chipped or cracked
  • Excessive tooth wear
  • Stuffiness or congestion in the ears
  • Tinnitus
  • Tingling and/or numbness in the extremities
  • Misaligned bite
  • Poor posture
  • Earaches
  • Vertigo or feelings of dizziness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Sinus pressure and lack of sinus draining

This is not a complete list of symptoms because TMJ pain is far-reaching. Therefore, if you experience pain of any sort, we recommend that you schedule a consultation with us at TMJ and Airway Associates of Nashville.

TMJ disorder and airway issues are linked

An airway issue can result in problems with the temporomandibular joint, and likewise, a case of TMJ disorder could lead to an airway obstruction that results in sleep apnea. How does this happen?

TMJ disorder affects your tongue. Did you know that your tongue is the strongest muscle in your body? Your tongue gets a serious workout, but if your mouth isn’t big enough to accommodate it, this can cause all kinds of problems for your overall health and wellness. Ideally, when you aren’t eating or speaking, your tongue should be able to rest gently against the roof of the mouth, with the lips and teeth together. This position is known as oral rest posture, and it provides jaw support and encourages the development of wide, open dental arches that help maintain an open airway. If your tongue rests on the floor of the mouth resulting in open mouth posture and mouth breathing, there’s a good chance that the tongue might slide back into the airway while you sleep, potentially causing an airway obstruction that leads to sleep apnea.

You mouth breathe. Mouth breathing often begins during childhood. It encourages the tongue to drop to the floor of the mouth so that more air can pass through the mouth and enter the lungs. In doing so, the upper dental arch loses the support provided by the tongue and it develops in a narrow fashion, affecting the development of the upper jaw, and tooth alignment. And an underdeveloped jaw can increase your likelihood of experiencing issues with your temporomandibular joint. Learn more about mouth breathing, its consequences, and how your Nashville TMJ dentist can help.

TMJ disorder can lead to sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is one of the most well-known and serious sleep breathing disorders. For a person with sleep apnea, blockages form in the airway during sleep, often totally disrupting airflow. These blockages may occur as many as a hundred or more times an hour. During these apneic events, the oxygen levels in the body drop, and the brain responds by sending signals for the body to resume breathing.

If your TMJ disorder is due to a misaligned jaw, this too could cause airway issues. Specifically, a narrow jaw or deep overbite can push your tongue to the back of the mouth. No matter what the cause, sleep apnea can have a major impact on your life. Your sleep quality declines, affecting your performance at work or school. Eventually, your mental and physical health starts suffering. If left untreated, sleep apnea elevates your risk of a host of potentially serious health issues, including heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and depression. Learn more about sleep apnea, its associated risks, and how TMJ and Airway Associates of Nashville can treat this condition.

How can your dentist help?

Dr. Devine can perform an evaluation to determine if you suffer from TMJ disorder. This may entail certain diagnostic tests, including X-rays, in addition to a hands-on examination that looks for signs of pain and tenderness coming from the jaw joints.

The value of oral appliance therapy

Both TMJ disorder and airway issues can be treated simultaneously through a course of oral appliance therapy. This entails providing the patient with a device that looks like a mouth guard, but actually is fabricated from high-quality materials and has been designed based on specific impressions and measurements of your teeth and mouth. When worn, this oral appliance guides the lower jaw forward, which helps maintain a wide and open airway. You’re able to achieve the ideal oral resting posture—with lips together, teeth together, and the tongue resting gently against the roof of the mouth. This oral rest posture also encourages an open airway, while bringing your jaws into their desired alignment and alleviating the stress being exerted on your temporomandibular joints. As a result, treatment addresses the root cause of your TMJ disorder, which helps to resolve any other issues resulting from your ailment, such as chronic pain.

There are multiple advantages to this type of therapy for TMJ disorder

  • Drug-free – Oral appliance therapy does not entail continued use of pain relief medication.
  • Minimally invasive – Oral appliance therapy is less invasive than other treatment options for TMJ disorder. In cases where damaged or missing teeth are to blame for a misaligned bite, restorative dental procedures may be recommended to restore the bite alignment. However, oral appliance therapy to manage TMJ disorder does not involve surgery.
  • Treatment is comfortable – Never at any point should TMJ treatment be painful. In fact, once Dr. Devine has determined your ideal jaw alignment, you should begin to experience relief immediately. Your newly constructed mouth guard will help you maintain this desired jaw alignment.

Treating TMJ and airway issues in Nashville

Remember that TMJ disorder is a serious medical condition. Just ignoring it and hoping it will go away on its own is the worst decision you could make. If left untreated, TMJ disorder will worsen, and any symptoms it causes—such as pain—will continue to intensify. You don’t have to live with pain for the rest of your life. Find relief by seeking the care of a qualified dentist who can provide diagnosis and treatment for your TMJ disorder in Nashville.

If your TMJ disorder is linked to problems with your airway, then an airway dentist in Belle Meade, such as Dr. Brian Devine, can help. Airway dentistry is a specialized area of dental science that studies the structure of the mouth, bite alignment, jaw development, and airway. An airway-centric dentist in Nashville can help manage your sleep apnea and resolve any airway issues that may be contributing to your TMJ disorder. Learn more about airway dentistry and how you could benefit from scheduling a consultation with TMJ and Airway Associates of Nashville.

Dr. Brian Devine is proud to offer these unique and specialized services in airway dentistry at his new practice, TMJ and Airway Associates of Nashville. To learn more about how our team of oral health professionals could help you, call (615) 329-1854 to schedule a consultation. We serve patients in the areas of Nashville, Belle Meade, and Green Hills, Tennessee.

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