Do you suffer from chronic pain in the jaw, face, head, neck or shoulders? This pain may be caused by a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD).
Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) means that the hinge connecting the upper and lower jaw is not working properly. The joint located on the side of your head just in front of your ears is called the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). This joint connects your mandible (jawbone) to your temporal bone (skull). This hinge is responsible for moving the lower jaw forward, backward and side-to-side. This is one of the most complex joints in the body which allows you to chew, swallow, speak, and yawn. Any problems with the muscle, bone or other tissues in the area in and around the temporomandibular joints are often suspected as TMD. This joint disorder makes you feel like your jaw is popping, clicking or even “getting stuck” for a moment.
The exact cause of a person’s TMJ disorder is usually difficult to determine. Your pain may be due to a combination of factors, such as genetics, arthritis, or jaw injury. In most cases, the pain and discomfort associated with TMD are only temporary. It is not usually serious and generally gets better on its own. It can be relieved with self-managed care or nonsurgical treatments. Surgery is typically the last option after conservative measures have failed.
What Are The Symptoms Of TMD?
Most of the time, it is hard to tell whether the pain you feel is already associated with TMD because one or all of these symptoms can also be present on other complications. Your dentist can help make a proper diagnosis by taking a complete medical and dental history, conducting a clinical examination, and taking appropriate X-rays.
Some of the most common TMD symptoms include:
✓ Headaches (often mimicking migraines), earaches, and pain behind the eyes
✓ A clicking or popping sound when you open or close your mouth
✓ Pain after yawning, opening the mouth widely or chewing
✓ Jaws that get stuck or locked
✓ Tenderness of the jaw muscles
✓ A sudden change in the alignment of the upper and lower teeth
What Causes TMD?
In most cases, the direct cause of TMD is not clear. However, the pain you feel is caused by the misalignment around the area. The temporomandibular joint combines a hinge action with sliding motions. The parts of the bones that interact in the joint are covered with cartilage and are separated by a small shock-absorbing disk, which normally keeps the movement smooth.
Painful TMJ disorders can occur if:
✓ The disk erodes or moves out of its proper alignment
✓ The joint’s cartilage is damaged by arthritis
✓ The joint is damaged by a blow or other impact
In most cases, TMDs are believed to be caused by jaw injuries and joint disease, such as arthritis, whereas bruxism (tooth clenching or grinding) may make TMD symptoms worse. Stress, misfit dentures, and fingernail/pencil biting are also considered to be possible factors of TMD.
How Is TMD Treated?
While there is no single cure for TMD, there are different techniques you can follow that may reduce your symptoms dramatically. Most patients with TMD get better by themselves without any treatment.
Prevention of TMD can often be achieved using self-care at home, such as:
✓ Eating soft foods
✓ Avoiding chewing gum
✓ Maintaining proper posture
✓ Trying not to open your mouth too wide, even when you yawn
✓ Using proper safety equipment to prevent jaw fractures and dislocations while exercising, working, or participating in sports
✓ Practicing stress reduction and jaw relaxation techniques
When you are relaxed, your teeth should be slightly apart and your tongue should rest on the floor of your mouth with your lips barely touching. There should be a slight space between your upper and lower teeth except during chewing, speaking or swallowing.
How Your Dentist Can Help
After a thorough examination and, if needed, appropriate x-rays, your dentist may suggest a plan to treat your TMD. There are several treatment plans that your dentist could recommend such as relaxation techniques, pain medicine, wearing night guards which is also called an occlusal splint. These are made out of clear plastic and fit over the biting surfaces of the teeth of one jaw. These guards prevent you from clenching your teeth and helps your jaw joints and muscles to relax.
If your pain continues, your dentist may also refer you to a dental specialist, a physiotherapist, a chiropractor, or a behavioral therapist with extra training in TMDs to help you ease muscle pain. Surgery is rarely used to treat TMDs. However, if none of the other treatments work, you may need surgery which will be conducted by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon with expertise in temporomandibular joint surgery.