Feel the jaw joints and muscles near the bottom of your ears? You can feel them moving when you open and close your mouth. These facial joints are called “temporomandibular joints,” TMJ for short, and the surrounding muscles “masseter muscles.” Together, they help you chew, yawn, talk… and really any movement that involves moving your lower jaw up and down or side to side.
For most people, the TMJ and masseter muscles don’t cause any problems. But for others, jaw pain and migraines, painful chewing and facial swelling are an everyday experience — and signs that something isn’t functioning well with the TMJ and jaw muscles. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, between 5-12% of the American population experience these types of symptoms — symptoms often due to temporomandibular (TMJ) disorder, also called TMD.
Now, because the TMJ and jaw muscles are related to your teeth and bite, you’re right in thinking that orthodontics can have an impact on their health and functioning. But is that a positive or negative impact? You might be wondering if orthodontics like braces or Invisalign can help TMJ disorder. Or on the flip side, are you wondering, “Can braces cause TMJ?”
Dr. Okuda and your Henderson, NV orthodontics team want to help answer these questions. So in this post, we’ll cover what you need to know about TMJ, as well as answer the big question posed by this post, “Do braces help or cause TMJ?”
So what is TMD?
Let’s start with making sure we’re on the same page about what temporomandibular disorder (TMD) looks like. If you have TMD, it can be related to any part of your chewing system. In other words, you can have TMD in any part of your TMJ or jaw muscles.
This includes your:
- Condyles – the round ends of your jaw that fit into your temporal bone’s joint socket
- Articular discs – a soft disc between the bones and joints that absorb shock and ensure smooth jaw movement
- Cartilage – that covers the bones and work with the joint and facial muscles to control movement
- Masseter muscles – made up of three parts and helps chewing.
Fun fact: masseter muscles are the strongest muscle in your body for their size. Together with all your jaw muscles, the masseter muscle can put 55 lbs of force on your incisors or 200 lbs of force on your molars. That’s a strong bite!
What causes TMD in the jaw joint and muscles?
TMD is different from person to person, both in how it feels and what causes it. Sometimes it can come and go. Sometimes it’s constant and chronic. The level of pain with TMD ranges from mild discomfort to severe and debilitating. And sometimes it can resolve on its own while other times, TMD needs medical or orthodontic intervention like braces.
Although it can be hard to pinpoint an exact cause, the most common ones include:
Injury to the jaw or joint
Whether you’ve had facial trauma directly — like getting hit in the face, falling, or striking the chin, or indirect trauma — like whiplash or injury to other neck or head muscles, these physical causes can trigger TMD.
Arthritis in the temporomandibular joints
Arthritis can damage the cartilage connected to the TMJ and contribute to TMD symptoms in your jaw.
It’s safe to say that stress can affect us physically as well as mentally. Some people respond to stress by tightening their facial muscles or clenching their jaw.
Remember that fun fact about the jaw muscles being the strongest ones? Imagine how much strain you’re putting on your TMJ and jaw muscles when you’re constantly clenching your jaw together from stress.
It’s possible for the discs in your jaw to erode or get displaced. Understandably, this can cause facial pain or discomfort, signs that you might have TMD in your jaw.
Bruxism, or simply put, teeth grinding, puts a lot of pressure on the TMJ and jaw muscles.
A bite imbalance
As an orthodontist, Dr. Okuda helps a lot of patients transform a bad bite into a well-aligned, healthy, and functioning smile. Imbalanced, misaligned bites — like overbites, underbites, or crossbites — can result in uneven wear on teeth or imbalanced force on the jaw, leading to TMJ pain or TMD.
Currently, researchers are studying more about the link between female hormones and TMD since stats show it’s more common in women. A study published by the National Journal of Medical Sciences reported a 2.3 to 1 ratio of women with TMD to men. And 90% of people who seek help for TMJ are women.
What are the most common TMD symptoms?
When you have TMJ, it’s pretty obvious — TMJ leads to pain and discomfort you just can’t ignore. Here’s a list of the most common TMD symptoms, many of which we’ve seen at our Henderson, NV office:
- Jaw pain and/or stiffness
- Difficulty fully opening your mouth
- Jaws that lock in an open or closed position
- Headaches, earaches, neck aches and/or shoulder pain
- Fatigue in your jaw and/or face
- Popping, grating or clicking noise when you open and close your mouth
- Swelling or tenderness on the side of your face
- Pain in your teeth
- Painful or difficult chewing
- Ringing in your ears (also called “tinnitus”)
How is TMJ Treated?
TMJ/TMD is treated according to what’s causing it, your symptoms, and its severity. The first step to finding relief is coming in to see Dr. Okuda so he can diagnose and assess your TMJ disorder and decide how best to treat it.
Dr. Okuda might suggest:
- Home remedies
- Physical therapy
- Custom nightguard or a TMJ splint
- Botox treatment
- Orthodontic treatment
- Alternative medicine
- Surgery (a very last resort)
So can braces cause TMJ pain or TMD?
That’s the million-dollar question! Now that you know more about TMJ/TMD, let’s tackle this. The simple answer is, there’s currently no research-based evidence to suggest that braces can cause TMJ.
So where did the idea come from that TMD can be caused by braces? Well, in 1978, a patient in Michigan sued her orthodontist, claiming her braces treatment — which included tooth extractions and headgear — caused her TMD. She won her case, despite a lack of solid scientific evidence.
Since that lawsuit almost 45 years ago, thousands of studies have been conducted to see if orthodontic treatments like braces and Invisalign can cause TMD, or cure it. To date, none of the studies indicate TMD is caused by braces or Invisalign. No proven links exist between TMD/TMJ and extractions, headgear or other orthodontic appliances and treatments.
One thing to consider, however, is concurrency. TMD tends to appear as you get older, from the teen years through your early 40s. Coincidently, this is also when a lot of people get orthodontic treatment. What does this mean? Simply put, if you have symptoms of TMJ while wearing braces or Invisalign, it doesn’t mean your pain and your treatment are related. Or more specifically, that your TMD is caused by your braces or Invisalign.
You might also be wondering if braces or Invisalign can make TMJ worse. Honestly, it can. If your braces or Invisalign treatment is working to align your jaws, it might affect existing temporomandibular disorder.
Our advice? Let us know right at the initial consultation whether you have TMD or jaw pain. Dr. Okuda has treated many patients with TMD and can determine how best to address both your TMJ pain and the dream smile you’ve always wanted.
Can braces help my TMJ?
So if braces don’t cause it, can braces help TMJ? Or what about Invisalign — can it fix TMJ pain? Most times, fixing crooked teeth with braces or Invisalign won’t alleviate the TMD in your jaw. That said, your TMD symptoms might alleviate if your orthodontics are meant to address misalignment in your jaw, like an improper or bad bite.
In this case, the answer to, “Can braces help my TMJ?” is, possibly. Open bites and crossbites might be linked to TMD. How? They put stress on your jaw joints, which can cause or contribute to temporomandibular joint dysfunction. So in these cases, your TMJ after braces might disappear along with your misaligned bite!
Or are you a chronic teeth grinder? Do you have bruxism? We’ve found that bruxism is common in patients with a misaligned bite. It’s thought that some patients subconsciously grind or clench their teeth to try to stack their teeth together properly and compensate for a misaligned bite. Since bruxism can cause TMD, it’s possible to see improvement in TMD after braces or Invisalign aligns the bite and alleviates teeth grinding.
What else can help my TMD symptoms? Try BOTOX®
Dr. Okuda’s expertise in anatomy and the function of facial muscles and nerves makes him the ideal medical professional to trust for BOTOX®. Why are we mentioning this? You might be surprised to know that BOTOX can help with TMD. And Dr. Okuda is a trained, leading BOTOX provider in the Henderson and Las Vegas areas.
When injected directly into the jaw and facial muscles affected, BOTOX relaxes them, allowing your muscles to rest and heal. Chronic pain and muscle tension in your jaw and face are alleviated, resulting in your TMD getting better.
Can braces or Invisalign cause TMJ? Not likely. Can they help? Sometimes — if your orthodontic treatment is to improve jaw misalignment like a crossbite or underbite.
Have symptoms of temporomandibular disorder? Is your jaw misalignment causing pain or affecting how you chew? Do you grind your teeth? Board-certified orthodontist, Dr. Okuda, and his friendly, expert team can help.
Book a free consultation at our state-of-the-art Henderson, NV orthodontic office to get started on improving the TMD in your jaw and TMD symptoms.