Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) can take many forms. Though the symptoms may overlap, there are many different causes of TMJ, and because of these numerous causes, people can be at risk for TMJ at any age. It’s not just a condition that affects children. Or adults. Or seniors. Anyone can develop TMJ, though the causes of TMJ change as our life goes through these phases.
Children and Teens: Growing into TMJ
The root cause of most TMJ is that our teeth and jaws have changed in the recent past as a result of adaptations for speech and the agricultural revolution, and they continue to change. Speech adaptations changed the position and shape of our airway, as well as the configuration of our head/neck junction. This puts additional stress on the jaw, and puts us at risk for respiratory obstructions as children and as adults. This contributes to sleep apnea, but it also affects the development of the teeth.
The unfortunate jaw position is also encouraged by our tendency to eat cooked and processed foods, which don’t stimulate our jaw development as much as in the past. These two factors cause our jaw to be pushed backward, which stresses the jaw joint, contributing to tension that can peak as the jaw reaches full size during our late teens or early 20s.
Teens can also exacerbate stress on their jaws by getting involved in athletics like football or cheerleading that can make great demands on the body, including the jaw, which helps provide stability, strength, and balance to the body’s core.
In addition, teenage bad habits like chewing gum or nonfood objects can contribute to stress on the jaw joint, leading to persistent jaw pain or popping.
Adults: Stress and Trauma
Some adults may not immediately experience symptoms of an imbalanced or stressed jaw system. It may take years before the problem becomes evident, so they develop TMJ later in life, but for the same reasons as children and teens.
Others who have healthy jaw development can develop TMJ for different reasons. The adult world is full of stress, and many people’s response to stress is to clench or grind their teeth. Teeth clenching and grinding, called bruxism, can wear your teeth down, but it also puts stress on the jaw joint, which can cause excessive wear or displace the components of the jaw.
Another common cause of TMJ in adulthood is trauma. Falls, violence, and car accidents all contribute to the development of TMJ.
It’s important to note that you don’t have to hit your jaw in a car accident to suffer jaw damage. Just the whiplash effect of rapid acceleration can put enough stress on your jaw joint that it just comes out of place. Pay attention to jaw pain, jaw sounds, headaches, and other symptoms that can warn of TMJ or other serious complications after a car accident.
As We Age: Wear and Replacement
As our teeth wear down, their initially healthy position can alter into an unhealthy, even damaging configuration. This can happen due to bruxism or just as a result of natural wear-and-tear on the teeth.
Restorations like dental crowns can contribute to TMJ if they’re placed improperly, causing an uncomfortable and dysfunctional bite. Dentures are among the worst restorations for this. Because they are replacing all your teeth, it’s crucial that they are fitted not just to your mouth, but to your bite as well. Otherwise, jaw pain, headaches, and other TMJ symptoms can develop.
TMJ Treatment Evolves with Age
Because the nature of your TMJ is different, your TMJ treatment will be different. However, whenever possible, we encourage reversible, nonsurgical, drug-free treatment using neuromuscular dentistry.
To learn what TMJ treatment is right for you, please call 910-392-6060 for an appointment with a Wilmington TMJ dentist at Kuzma Advanced Dentistry.