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I Had Braces, Now My Jaw Hurts: Can Orthodontics Cause TMJ?

You had braces when you were younger and never experienced any jaw pain or other TMJ symptoms prior. Then, after you completed your orthodontic treatment, you developed pain in your jaw, maybe accompanied by popping, locking, clenching and grinding. Maybe you developed these symptoms shortly after having your braces removed, or maybe it was a decade later. Either way, could these two things be related?

What is TMJ?

First, let us explain a little bit about TMJ—what it is, what causes it, and how it’s treated. TMJ stands for the temporomandibular joint, or the jaw joint. TMD stands for temporomandibular joint dysfunction and is used to describe any condition affecting the jaw joint—but TMJ is often used to describe the dysfunction as well.

Your TMJ is a complex structure made up of muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, bones, lubricating systems, and shock-absorbing discs - all of which are subject to strain, sprain, and injury just like your other joints like your knees and shoulders. There are many factors that may contribute to TMJ dysfunction, including stress, injuries, habitual behaviours, as well as tooth alignment and bite problems.

There are many treatment options for TMJ, including:

  • Awareness and gentle massage and stretching techniques
  • Habit-correcting appliances like mouth guards or night guards that minimize clenching and grinding
  • Orthodontics to correct the alignment and bite
  • Corrective jaw surgery for more severe cases

Orthodontics for TMJ Treatment

If your primary concern is not your tooth alignment, but your TMJ pain, it’s likely you will seek out a doctor who understands the delicate balance of the jaw joint and your alignment and bite. This may be a highly-trained general dentist, orthodontist, or a TMJ specialist. 

Used strategically, orthodontics can help bring your teeth and bite into a healthier alignment to relieve the tension that’s causing your TMJ. But if orthodontics is often used to treat TMJ, how could it also be a cause of TMJ?

Disrupting the Balance

Most orthodontic treatments are only meant to straighten teeth, especially if there are no pre-existing TMJ problems, and unfortunately, some orthodontists and general dentists providing orthodontic services are not well-trained in the relationship between the alignment, bite, and TMJ. So they slap some braces on you and straighten your smile so it looks beautiful, with little to no regard to how these changes may have disrupted the balance of your natural bite and jaw joint. 

The Takeaway

The short answer to the question, “Can orthodontics cause TMJ?” is yes, sometimes - but it can help treat TMJ as well! TMJ dysfunction is complex and may be the result of multiple factors, not just orthodontics alone—especially if you developed symptoms many years after completing orthodontic treatment.

If you had braces in the past and you are suffering from TMJ now, you may choose to seek treatment for this condition. Our dentists recommend choosing a dentist, orthodontist, or TMJ specialist who is well-trained in treating TMJ disorders. If you’re considering braces for the first time and are concerned about developing TMJ dysfunction, choose a dentist or orthodontist who understands the delicate balance of tooth alignment, bite, and the TMJ. Be sure to express your concerns to your doctor.

Our team at Pleasant Valley Dental understands the complexities of treating malocclusion and TMJ.

If you have any questions about orthodontics and TMJ, or you’d like to come to see us in person, contact your Vernon dentist at Pleasant Valley Dental today!

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