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A Medical Mess: TMJ Disorder

Posted Aug 24 2008 5:06pm
TMJ Disorder, a complicated, difficult-to-diagnosis condition which is even more difficult to treat, is extraordinarily troublesome for doctors and patients alike. The condition comes with a plethora of symptoms, and no two cases ever seem to be exactly alike. Some sufferers experience only a mild and/or annoying popping in the jaws. Others experience jaw dislocations, severe pain in the jaw, headaches, dizziness, ear pain, tinnitus, even back, neck and arm discomfort.

The causes of the disorder are as multifarious as the symptoms. Many report that their problems began after extensive dental work. Most of these cases seem to self-resolve given time and a softer diet. Others experience the onset of pain after accidents or blows to the head or jaw. Often, however, the problem arises because of clenching or grinding of the teeth, most often done while one is asleep. The condition may take years to fully develop, but once it does, it most often never completely resolves, although one may become pain free. Even then, one may always have to be careful about one eats…no apples on the core, corn on the cob, or chewy cuts of meat, and even nuts and crunchy items may be verboten.

Unfortunately, there is no dental or medical certification for treating this disease. Essentially, any dentist can claim to be a specialist in TMJ. This is, sadly, where the real problems may begin for someone suffering from TMJ Disorder. For example, one method of treatment that may work for some, but may actually exasperate the problem for others, is the recommendation to use mouth guards. Recent studies from Wayne State University claim that mouth guards ARE NOT helpful in treating this condition. This is because after a short time the wearer becomes accustomed to the mouth guard and then just begins grinding away on it. Some people, however, insist the mouth guard is a helpful appliance. For others, the mouth guard makes the problem worse.

Tragically, some dentists and doctors prescribe irreversible treatment, such as grinding teeth down to even a bite; pulling teeth and then suggesting expensive bridge and crown work; even surgery. This is done despite the fact that most cases of TMJ will resolve given TIME and a SOFTER DIET.

We are an impatient lot, however, and don’t like leaving the body to its own devices to heal, and when we are talking about TMJ, we are often talking a year or more for the condition to correct, and that is with careful attention to one’s diet. It is also imperative that one stop grinding and clenching if this is the root cause of the TMJD problem. There are various methods for doing this, and one must essentially sort through the literature to find the method that will work for them.

It is critical, however, that one not allow irreversible procedures to be done. The success rate from jaw surgery is miniscule. Most surgeries leave the patient worse off than they were before. We want relief from the pain, but don’t look for relief at any cost. Be wary of taking pain medication also. With the pain medication, one continues to injure the jaw but doesn’t feel the pain! It may be necessary to take medication sporadically, but by all means make sure your diet is soft and easy to chew to avoid making the condition worse. You can find helpful recipes and ideas in "You Can Conquer TMJ: Ideas and Recipes," available at or at .
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