TMD (Temporomandibular Disorder) is a condition which affects the jaw and facial muscles surrounding the mouth. These areas control the movement of the jaw as well as the chewing motion. There are estimated to be more than 10 million people who suffer from this disorder, and innumerable others who have yet to be diagnosed. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is typically the culprit in cases of TMD. The TMJ is the joint which connects your jaw to your skull. When the TMJ suffers a trauma or injury of some sort, it may be unable to move as it should and can cause complications while chewing or speaking. This can not only be a frustrating problem, but it can often be a painful and uncomfortable one as well.

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What causes TMD?

There is no one specific cause that has been identified as the clear culprit behind TMD, though there are a number of factors that dentists believe may help lead to problems with the TMJ. These factors include:

  • Bruxism (tooth grinding), or clenching of the jaw, which can put an unusual amount of stress and pressure on the TMJ
  • Rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis of the TMJ
  • Stress, which may cause you to tighten your facial and jaw muscles and clench your teeth, which can lead to injury of the TMJ
  • Dislocation of the disc or soft cushion between the ball and socket of the TMJ
  • Injuries to the TMJ or jaw, as well as the head and neck, such as whiplash or certain sports injuries.

How is TMD diagnosed?

Before performing a thorough oral examination, your dentist will ask you a series of questions about your symptoms to determine possible areas of concern. During their examination, your dentist carefully examines your TMJ for tenderness and pain, and listen for distinct sounds when you move your jaw. They will check to determine if there is any inflammation or tenderness in your face or jaw, and examine your bite and the state of your teeth (looking for any problems with your bite or the condition of your teeth which could be causing the TMD). In certain cases, your dentist may need to request full-face x-rays in order to view your entire jaw. They may also recommend an MRI of your soft tissue, or a CT scan of the bony areas of your TMJ.

What are the symptoms of TMD?

Severe pain and discomfort can result from TMD. Common but unusual symptoms of TMD include toothaches, neck aches, dizziness, toothaches, and even earaches and hearing problems. Other symptoms of TMD may include:

  • Pain or tenderness in the face that radiates to the jaw, neck, shoulders, and ears when you talk, chew or open your mouth wide to yawn.
  • A clicking, popping, or other sounds in the jaw when opening or closing the mouth. This may or may not be accompanied by pain.
  • Limited ability to open your mouth wide
  • A suddenly uncomfortable bite or difficulty chewing – this may feel as if the top and bottom teeth are not fitting together properly.
  • A generally tired feeling in your face
  • Swelling on either side of the face
  • Jaws that seem to “lock” into place, either open or closed.

How can a dentist help me if I have TMD?

There are several treatments for TMD that can help to remedy the problem. If your dentist finds that your TMD is mainly caused by grinding your teeth, then they may recommend a night guard or a treatment plan that will fix your dental issues. In certain cases, braces, implants, bridges, and crowns can help to fix any bite problems that are exacerbating your TMD. If your temporomandibular disorder is being caused by stress, then your dentist may recommend muscle relaxers or relaxation techniques, so that you no longer clench your jaw, which can lead to TMD. The dentist will also probably suggest that you avoid chewing gum and foods/drinks that are high in sugars or especially difficult to chew.

There are a few things you can do on your own to help relieve the symptoms of your TMD, though they are not a substitute for professional treatment:

  • Apply heat or cold packs – placing a warm, damp washcloth to your face for about five minutes a few times each day may help to keep the muscles around the TMJ and jaw relaxed.
  • Avoid chewy foods – chewing gum, caramels, and taffy can cause unnecessary stress on your jaw, which may need to TMD. You may also need to avoid hard foods such as raw carrots, pretzels, or hard rolls. Softer foods are the best choice when you’re experiencing the symptoms of TMD.
  • Over-the-counter medications – In some cases, anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen may help ease the inflammation and pain that occur with TMD.
  • Relax – learn some relaxation techniques that can help reduce your stress levels. Regular exercise, combined with practices such as meditation or yoga may help ease the symptoms of TMD. You may also consider stress reduction therapy or massage.

In some cases, simpler therapies just aren’t enough to correct your TMD. In these instances, your dentist may recommend that you see an oral surgeon who specializes in TMD treatments. These may include arthrocentesis, arthroscopy, or open-joint surgery.