The temporomandibular joint is like a sliding hinge that connects your lower jaw to your temporal bone (on the side of your head). Joint disorder or dysfunction is commonly referred to as TMJ.
Why Some People Choose Not to Treat TMJ
Some people who think they have TMJ ignore the signs and symptoms. They don’t necessarily think the issue will go away, but they might choose to handle it on their own without seeking medical or dental advice. Why? The reasons vary, but some of them are below.
- Too busy – Like many medical or dental appointments, you might feel that your schedule is too busy. What if you need follow-up appointments? What if you’re prescribed therapy? A busy schedule can cause you to delay or avoid seeking professional advice.
- The cost – The cost of a co-pay, coinsurance, or out-of-pocket expenses can cause you to delay or avoid treatment.
- DIY works for you – A common way to relieve most types of pain and discomfort is with over-the-counter pain reliever, so you might choose to take ibuprofen when symptoms become intense and skip a dental visit altogether.
- Afraid of the dentist – If you have dental anxiety, it can keep you out of the office. Period. Your fear of the dentist might be greater than fear of what can happen if your TMJ signs and symptoms are left untreated.
What Are the Risks?
Experts agree that TMJ symptoms should be treated conservatively. At-home care often provides relief and can include resting the joint, applying heat and cold packs to your jaw, and doing gentle jaw exercises.
But if you ignore the signs and symptoms and decide to do nothing, what are the risks? Five of them are reviewed below.
- Chronic pain – Untreated TMJ can get worse. As your jaw joint becomes increasingly stressed, headaches, earaches, jaw pain, and neck pain will also increase. Your quality of life can eventually become affected by chronic pain.
- Tinnitus – Tinnitus (ringing in the ear) can result from TMJ dysfunction. Tinnitus can be stressful and disturb your sleep.
- Dizziness – A poorly aligned jaw can put pressure on the sensors in your inner ear that are responsible for balance and make you feel dizzy.
- Sleep disturbances – The pain and discomfort from TMJ can disturb your sleep. Insufficient sleep can result in anxiety, depression, lack of concentration, impaired memory, and a variety of medical conditions.
- Misaligned bite – Joint dysfunction can cause your bite (the way your upper and lower teeth fit together) to be misaligned. A misaligned bite can create painful and costly orthodontic issues that, if left untreated, will last a lifetime.
What Should You Do?
Schedule an appointment with a dentist who has advanced, post-graduate training in occlusion, bite, and TMJ therapy. If you have dental anxiety, let the receptionist know it when you schedule your appointment. Accommodations will be made to ensure you are comfortable.
An examination will be needed to determine if your symptoms are related to TMJ disorder. You’ll learn about conservative treatment options that will give you relief.
This post is sponsored by Philadelphia, PA dentist Dr. Michael Weiss.