Increased stress and poor sleep patterns among the Millennial generation is resulting in an increase in TMJ problems, with dentists seeing an increase in TMJ disorder treatment.

The favourite target for older generations to point at all that’s wrong in the world, Millennials are often painted as lazy, apathetic and lack the proper work ethic. In spite of these popular stereotypes though, evidence shows the Millennial generation are sleeping less and have significantly higher rates of stress, often as a result of being overworked. A consequence of these factors is an increase in physical jaw pain, specifically temporomandibular joint disorders, commonly referred to interchangeably as TMJ/TMD.

What is TMJ?

A TMJ disorder is a problem affecting the hinge connecting your jaw to the temporal bones of the skull. The TMJ is located in front of the ear on each side and is incredibly important, as it’s what allows us to chew and talk. This joint has the most complex movement of any

joint in the body. When the TMJ is impaired, it can have a wide range of negative impacts, including facial pain, pain in the jaw muscles and jaw joint, headaches, and discomfort in the neck and shoulders. Often problems can start small, but progressively worsen until the TMJ pain is affecting the entire body. The TMJ that may be damaged is also actively healing all the time and if the healing is more than the damage, there may not be any symptoms until either the healing rate decreases or the damage rate increases above the healing rate.

Millennials and TMJ

While there are multiple different causes that can lead to TMJ disorders – from genetics to an uneven bite – one of the most common is grinding (otherwise known as bruxism), or clenching teeth, otherwise known as bruxism. This parafunction (grinding and clenching) alone may or may not cause TMD but are contributing to damage that may already be present. With more and more Millennials experiencing burnout and work-related stress, this increased anxiety is manifesting in their jaws. While approximately 7 in 10 people experience TMJ related disorders, dentists describe seeing a rise in TMJ diagnoses among their younger patients.

“We’re definitely seeing a lot of younger patients coming in with TMJ issues. I think a lot of it has to do with stress…we’re definitely seeing an influx of TMJ complaints and tension. People’s teeth are worn, they’re grinding, and they’re not sleeping well.”

  • Celebrity cosmetic dentist Victoria Veytsman

Signs you may suffer from TMJ disorder

If you suffer from persistent jaw pain or grind and clench your teeth from high levels of stress, or have jaw positional problems, you’re likely to develop some form of a TMJ issue. Some of the common signs of TMJ/TMD include:

  • waking up with sore or stiff jaw muscles
  • have frequent or regular headaches, as well as neck and backaches
  • clench your jaw due to stress or tooth positioning problems
  • have difficulty with jaw movement when eating or yawning
  • suffer from other sleep disturbances or sleep-disordered breathing
  • have jaw joint arthritis
  • worn-down teeth
  • Narrow dental arches
  • Mouth breathing
  • restricted tongue mobility or strength
  • Jaw having to deviate to the side to allow for jaw opening
  • tooth loss that may be unbalancing the forces on the jaw joints

If you have experience with one or a combination of these factors, it’s important to visit your dentist as soon as possible. Caught early, TMJ treatment is straightforward, however, the longer you go without addressing the underlying issue, the more invasive the treatment required may need to be. Left untreated, TMJ can result in limited jaw movement, persistent migraines, degeneration of the jaw joint and significant facial pain.

More and more papers are referring to the cause of TMD to be mostly due to jaw or teeth positioning creating a muscle balance problem leading to inflammation.

How dentists can help treat TMJ

For most cases of TMJ, the soreness tied to a joint is temporary with patients able to relieve pain through self-managed care and different non-surgical treatments. Depending on the severity of the case, options will range from relatively conservative treatments to more serious, particularly if it’s resulting in chronic pain.

Some of the common TMJ treatments your dentist will recommend include:

  • lifestyle changes such as avoiding foods that are hard to eat and require chewing, e.g. the gum, or eating mostly soft foods, however, this is a short-term solution and may cause atrophy in the muscles from underuse and create further problems later on.
  • physical therapy such as stretching and massaging the jaw
  • applying moist heat such as heated compress however heat may increase the inflammation and we advise cold compress to allow for less inflammation.
  • mouth guards to limit your jaw’s ability to grind and clench your teeth. This may be effective in a very small proportion of cases due more to the coincidental downward movement of the jaw joint that allows for healing. Mouthguards mostly help to prevent further damage to the teeth by limiting the forces on the teeth.
  • anti-inflammatory medications or muscle relaxants or botulinum toxin in the muscles. However, this is not treating the core problem and has long term side effects.
  • joint surgery in extreme cases and not something I wish on any patient and therefore to be avoided as far as possible

Better long-term option that may help

  • Myofunctional therapy will increase the functioning and strength of the muscles much like core muscle strength will help with back pain
  • Placing crowns, implants or dentures to rebalance the forces on the TMJ
  • Lower jaw repositioning splint (much like a mouth guard but more specific) that stays in the mouth 24/7 for a period of time to allow for healing of the jaw joint
  • Orthopaedic and orthodontic correction may be the most effective treatment after recapturing and healing of the TMJ disc with a repositioning splint to address the core problem

TMJ treatment at Lake View Dental

Our experienced team of dentists and dental professional at Lake View Dental on the Sunshine Coast can correctly diagnose and treat TMJ disorder. If you have any questions related to TMJ or would like to book an appointment, don’t hesitate to contact us today.

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