The Importance of Healthy Joints in Battling TMJ Disorder Among Seniors

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Healthy joints play a crucial role in the overall well-being of all individuals, especially seniors who may be more prone to conditions like TMJ disorder. TMJ, or temporomandibular joint disorder, can cause a range of symptoms such as jaw pain, neck pain and difficulty chewing. This disorder in the elderly demographic presents unique challenges, primarily due to factors such as wear and tear on the jaw joint and surrounding tissues, as well as a higher prevalence of diseases like arthritis that can exacerbate symptoms.

In this blog post, we will explore the importance of maintaining healthy joints in battling TMJ disorder among seniors, or anyone for that matter. I will focus on how this condition can affect one’s health, sleep, and overall quality of life, as well as treatment options available for managing TMJ disorder.

When it comes to being a senior there seem to be so many more things to be concerned about than when we were younger. At any stage, the temporomandibular joint’s functionality is essential for basic yet vital activities including eating, speaking and expressing emotions through facial movements. However, this critical joint can become compromised due to a history of dental procedures, tooth loss increasing stress on the TMJ, habitual clenching or grinding of teeth (bruxism), or simply the natural aging process, which can lead to degeneration of the joint’s cartilage.

Symptoms in seniors may manifest differently than in younger individuals, often characterized by more pronounced pain, limited jaw mobility, and even changes in the fit of dental appliances. In addition, older adults might experience headaches, earaches and increased sensitivity in the facial muscles, all of which can significantly impact their daily lives. The role of dental health becomes increasingly important in diagnosing and managing TMJ disorder in this age group.

Well folks, with the regular checkups with all those doctors, let’s be sure to make one of those doctors your TMJ specialist! A pivotal tool in evaluating the health of these joints is the CBCT X-ray, a diagnostic approach that offers comprehensive insights into the condition of the jaw joint, allowing for targeted interventions. The other diagnostic tool is an MRI. This allows the specialist to see all the soft tissue from the neck up.

For example: If the MRI shows slipped and or displaced discs in the TM joints, it would be prudent to try and fix the problem before it gets worse. Did you know that those slipped discs correlate to many other health problems? Well, they do!  The slipped discs directly correlate to SDB (Sleep Disordered Breathing)  along with Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Slipped discs also correlate with whole-body pain because the inflamed joints affect your entire body. Bottom line: It’s good to talk to your TMJ specialist! The integrity and health of joints are indispensable and contribute significantly to the overall resilience against conditions mitigating inflammation and aiding in the smooth operation of the temporomandibular joint.

In regards to the CBCT X-ray, this is a very valuable bit of a data gold mine. The X-ray provides a view at the top of the jaw bones (the condyles) to determine if they are eroding, flattened, damaged, too high in the socket and so many other issues. If that condyle is not where it should be, it adds to your list of chronic inflammation sources. The condyle will rub around in the socket and can actually further displace an already out-of-place disc. This just makes the situation worse.

The frontal view of your skull is quite critical in determining the symmetry of the cranial bones. As we get older, we tend to lose our good posture, i.e. we hunch more.  So, if the cranial bones are out of alignment like we see in so many people, hunching will just make things worse as we age, and this leads to more head and neck pain. More hunching with a distorted skull means more pain as we get older. It’s a simple thing and by spotting the cranial distortions earlier in life, you can use something like the ALF appliance to help reduce the asymmetry for a better future. Less pain makes for better sleep and a happier life.

Another aspect of the CBCT is the view of the cervical spine (the side view of the neck). With this view, we can see AND measure the distances between C-1 and C-2, and from C-1 to C-0 (occiput). This is the section of the spine in the neck. Both these distances need to be around 6mm for good health. If they are not, this means the cervical spine is compressed. It’s good to know this at a younger age so you can work on it with your physical therapist, wear a proper oral appliance and get better before you get too much older.

The MRI will show how the disc acts when opening and closing. Because this diagnostic tool shows all soft tissue, the specialist can see if there is any evidence of hemorrhagic within the brain around the TM joints.  The other great piece of information is the measurement of the range of motion and angulation of the joints. This is very valuable information to help create a good treatment plan. Fostering healthy joints involves a multifaceted approach to working with your other doctors and or therapist. The goal is to relax and strengthen the muscles surrounding the jaw and advocate for proper position.

Concluding our exploration of TMJ disorder and its impact on senior health, it’s evident that maintaining joint health is a cornerstone of mitigating this condition’s effects. Seniors are encouraged to take a holistic approach to their well-being, integrating physical, nutritional and therapeutic strategies to bolster joint health and manage TMJ symptoms effectively.

Furthermore, staying informed about the latest in TMJ management and maintaining open communication with your healthcare providers are key steps in navigating this condition successfully. It only makes sense. So, pay attention to your TM joints and stay healthier later in life! This proactive stance on joint health is instrumental in the broader spectrum of TMJ management, ensuring that seniors are equipped with the strategies necessary for mitigating the condition’s effects and enhancing their overall well-being.

Call To Learn More

If you have any questions or concerns, we invite you to call our dedicated team in Falls Church, Virginia and speak with a member of our team. We are also happy to schedule a visit with Dr. Jeffrey, Brown. Just call 703-821-1103 today!

Read Dr. Brown’s article in Your Health Magazine.