What is TMJ / TMD?
Temporomandibular disorders are disorders of the temporomandibular joints and connected soft tissues. The TMJs are among the most complex joints in the body. These joints, along with several muscles, ligaments, and nerves, allow the mandible (lower jaw) to move up and down, side to side, and forward and back. Any problem that prevents this complex system from working in harmony can result in temporomandibular disorder.
Inflammation and pain in temporomandibular joints can result in a restricted ability to move your jaw, a locked jaw, toothaches, cracked teeth, generalized cold sensitivity, headaches, neck aches, facial swelling, dizziness, earaches, hearing problems, upper shoulder pain, and ringing in the ears (tinnitus).
TMJ pain can be temporary, or it can last many years. It may affect one or both sides of your face. More women have it than men, and it’s most common among people between the ages of 20 and 40.
TMJ / TMD Causes and Symptoms
Jaw joint pain can be caused by:
- Clenching or grinding your teeth
- Clenching your jaw
- Misalignment of the jaw or teeth
- Poor posture
- An injury
Common symptoms of TMD include:
- Pain or tenderness in your face, jaw muscles, neck or shoulders, and in or around the ear when you chew or open your mouth.
- Restricted jaw movements when you attempt to open your mouth wide.
- Jaws that get “stuck” or “lock” in the open or closed position.
- Clicking, popping, or grating sounds in the jaw joint. These may or may not be painful.
- Trouble chewing, or a sudden uncomfortable bite, as if your upper and lower teeth aren’t fitting together properly.
- Swelling on the side of your face.
- A tired feeling on your face.
- Generalized tooth pain or sensitivity.
Treatment Options for TMJ / TMD
If your doctor suspects that you’re being impacted by TMD, they’ll perform a thorough physical examination to evaluate your jaw and related pain. They may also take diagnostic images to aid their assessment.
Diagnostic images may include x-rays to view your jaws, temporomandibular joints, and teeth, to rule out other problems. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans can show if the TMJ disc is in the proper position as your jaw moves. A computer tomography (CT) scan will show the bony detail of the joint.
Nonsurgical treatments that can be provided by your dentist or other medical professionals, either separately or in conjunction, include:
- Medication. Muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatories — including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)— can reduce the pain of TMD.
- Physical therapy, massage, stress-reduction therapy, and biofeedback. Any or all of these treatments may help patients with TMD.
- Botox treatment. While it doesn’t treat the root cause of temporomandibular disorders, the temporary use of botox for jaw pain can alleviate suffering for those with severe TMD, while permanent treatment options are explored.
- A splint or mouthguard. Your dentist may fit you with a mouthguard device to reduce teeth grinding. They keep upper and lower teeth from touching and can be worn at whatever times are recommended — day, night, or both.
- Dental work. Your dentist can replace missing teeth, or use crowns, bridges, braces, or aligners to correct a bite problem.
Some patients with TMD may be referred to an orthodontist to ensure that their teeth, muscles, and joints work as they should. Depending on the underlying causes, some patients with TMD may also be referred to an oral surgeon for further care and treatment.
What Happens if You Don’t Treat TMJ / TMD?
TMJ disorder can interfere greatly in the lives of those who suffer from it. Constant headaches, jaw and neck pain, and teeth grinding can take an increasing toll on the health of an individual. Sleep is commonly interrupted by tooth grinding and jaw clenching; this can lead to long-term issues such as sleep apnea and insomnia. On-going sleep disturbance and chronic pain can result in the development of depression, anxiety, and other medical conditions.
It is highly recommended that patients with TMD do not let it go untreated.