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Can Aligners Fix Jaw Problems?

Person with jaw issues that can be fixed with clear aligner therapy

Sometimes, the root of your orthodontic issues can stem from your jaw, and not your teeth. Improper jaw seating contributes to the added pressure and strain that leads to bruxism, and can exacerbate the pains associated with temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD.

TMD is a fairly common orthodontic condition suffered by patients, one that the National Institute of Health believes is suffered by over 10 million Americans. Common signs of TMD, or problematic jaw misalignment of any sort, include:

  • Pain, tenderness, or numbing around the jaw
  • Discomfort when attempting full bite seating
  • Cracked, chipped, or worn tooth enamel (emblematic of bruxism)
  • Facial aching, or even broader upper body ache
  • Locking and/or popping in one or both jaw joints

If you’re wondering whether or not removable clear aligner appliances would fix these jaw discomforts, the answer is that they sometimes just might! Of course, every patient is different, and even the same condition could radically vary on a case-by-basis. 

But by gradually pushing the teeth into proper alignment, properly-programmed clear aligners will facilitate better bite structure, and subsequently, less straining on the jaw. In turn, this can alleviate, if not cure, the symptoms associated with jaw discomfort. 

However, are badly-programmed clear aligners capable of doing the opposite and worsening jaw alignment and discomfort? Conversely, would aligners always be enough to curtail jaw discomfort? 

Can Aligners Cause TMJ?

Clear aligner appliances, when programmed by a trusted, licensed orthodontist, should NOT worsen jaw misalignment and discomfort. While they don’t directly act on the structural makeup of the jawbone, clear aligners, under ideal conditions, should offload unnecessary pressure from the jaw bone.

However, improperly programmed and fitted aligner devices can certainly worsen alignment, as well as discomfort issues related to alignment. This is the main reason we caution against using mail-order aligners. Unlike clear aligners made with the assistance of a licensed, trusted orthodontist, most mail order aligners lack:

  • The precision of in-office impressions
  • The personability of in-office appointments
  • The peer-reviewed efficacy of in-office aligners

Furthermore, experiencing a little jaw pain while wearing aligners can be normal, especially during the first few days of adjusting to a new tray. Gaps in aligner fit can promote muscle contractions, which in turn can promote jaw discomfort. To mitigate this, carefully bite down on Chewies and/or Movemints to promote pain relief and healthy aligner seating.

In any case, let your orthodontist know ASAP if jaw pain persists. They can provide an expert second opinion, offer additional support, determine whether or not you need a treatment revision, and ascertain the best possible solutions to your personal jaw discomfort.

Aligner Jaw Pain Relief

Jaw pain may naturally subside through the progression of your clear aligner treatment, but if it still persists, you’re not without options to deal with it. As stated above, even something as simple as chewies and Movemints can work wonders toward alleviating discomfort and promoting proper positioning!

If pain still persists in spite of your best efforts though, here are some other helpful best practices to ease jaw discomfort while wearing aligners:

  • OTC Pain Relievers: Medicines like naproxen, aspirin, and ibuprofen may help alleviate pain associated with severe, chronic TMD.
  • Massaging: Rub the affected regions in a circular motion for at least 5 to 10 rotations. This can help relieve tension and relax the muscles, as well as any TMD-related neck discomfort.
  • Muscle Exercises: Partial, full, tucked, resisted, and side-by-side jaw movement exercises are all simple, yet effective ways to work out jaw strain.
  • Stress Relief: Consider administering relaxing self-care exercises like yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and mindfulness techniques. This won’t just alleviate emotional tension, but potentially, jaw tension as well. If you suspect your stress is symptomatic of a clinical anxiety disorder, consider probing that deeper through behavioral therapy.
  • Mindful Dieting: During the two free hours that your aligners are removed, be careful to avoid hard, crunchy foods that will apply unnecessary strain to the jaw.
  • Mindful Intake: Even stimulant drugs as mild as caffeine can overwork the jaw muscles. Consider moderating your morning coffee intake while undergoing treatment, and if you’re struggling with more intensive addiction, seeking help with a trusted substance abuse counselor.

Can You Get Aligners If You Have TMJ?

There are plenty of things that factor into a person’s candidacy for wearing clear aligners, but moderate jaw discomfort, is not one of those things. Granted, severe sleep bruxism may make you a poor candidate for wearing clear aligners, as you could grind too intensely on the aligner material, but moderate TMD alone should not preclude your clear aligner candidacy.

If the jaw misalignment is too severe to be alleviated with orthodontic appliances alone, then your orthodontist may want to move forward with corrective orthognathic jaw surgery. Sometimes, clear aligners can be worn prior to and after this operation, but more often than not, orthodontists will use braces for this purpose.

Can You Fix Jaw Alignment Without Surgery?

The good news is that orthognathic jaw surgery is only needed for an extremely small minority of cases. More often than not, the pain associated with jaw misalignment and TMD will go away on its own! Clear aligner appliances, when properly used, can also work wonders with alleviating this pain.

That said, clear aligners are expressly dental, not jaw, aligners. Closer mandible alignment and eased pain may be a nice byproduct of wearing your aligners, but it’s certainly not the main issue, nor central issue that aligners are utilized to treat. 

Furthermore, if your jaw misalignment is severe enough to require orthognathic surgery, aligners won’t be sufficient at mending those issues alone. In any case, let your orthodontist know if you’re experiencing jaw issues during aligner treatment, so they can offer prompt help and discern the best next steps.