What Is TMJ/TMD?
When people hear the acronym TMJ, they often believe it refers to a disorder. However, TMJ actually names the joint impacted by a disorder — the temporomandibular joint, which is the hinge joint that connects the jawbone to the skull.
Disorders of this joint are called TMD, which stands for temporomandibular disorders. While there is a broad spectrum of temporomandibular disorders, most of them (if not all of them) are painful and can cause issues with muscular control of the face and jaw. This can impact many aspects of life, from interpersonal communication to work productivity and even the ability to eat and sleep comfortably.
What Are the Symptoms of TMD?
The most common symptoms of TMD include pain or tenderness of the neck, jaw, head, shoulders, and face, as well as frequent or chronic headaches, commonly with pain centered in the temples. This pain can range from a dull ache in the temple to extreme, even blinding pain comparable to migraines. There may also be a clicking or popping sound when you open or close your mouth. You may experience problems with chewing or even have a sudden and severe pain when you’re chewing. Sometimes, your face and jaw may swell up, leading to discomfort.
If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, you should contact your dentist to discuss whether evaluation is necessary as soon as possible.
What Causes TMD?
TMD can seem to develop rapidly, as symptoms can suddenly crop up without forewarning. However, in many cases, TMD develops over time, due to stress-related behaviors like grinding or clenching the teeth, excessive movement of the soft cushion within the jaw joint itself, or even the development of arthritis in the jaw.
People experience onset at ages ranging from childhood through their retirement years. In some cases, TMD develops rapidly as the result of a traumatic injury, such as a car accident or other incident that results in a sharp impact to the head, jaw, or even the soft tissue of the neck.
How Is TMD Treated?
There are three common methods of treatment for those suffering from TMD, and they are sometimes combined with one another to improve their efficacy. The first treatment option is medication. Your dentist may prescribe pain medication or even muscle relaxants to help minimize the pain and pressure cause by your TMJ. If, after careful analysis and review, it is believed that your TMD symptoms are a result of stress-induced behaviors, anti-anxiety medication may be prescribed if appropriate.
These medications are typically used in conjunction with splint therapy, which can also be referred to as the use of occlusal guards or night guards. Essentially, your dentist will create a custom molded mouthpiece (although there are generic over-the-counter versions available, too) that can reduce the impact of clenching and grinding during sleep. If you experience grinding and clenching during the day, your dentist may also recommend a dental splint.
Finally, TMD can be treated with corrective dental work. If your pain and symptoms are severe and considered to be a result of poor jaw alignment or bite, your dentist may recommend dental procedures ranging from braces to correct tooth placement to the installation of crowns or bridges to correct the issue.
What to Do if You Suspect You Have TMD
If you believe you have TMD or have been diagnosed with TMD, working with an experienced dentist who prioritizes patient comfort and who understands corrective dentistry is critical to your oral health and overall wellbeing. From teaching you stress-reducing behaviors to creating a custom mouth guard to minimize the impact of clenching or grinding during sleep hours, a skilled dentist like Dr. Sing can do a lot to reduce your TMD symptoms.
Many people may look at TMD and its symptoms as minor, but it can truly impact a person’s quality of life. From causing issues with eating and drinking that result in a change in diet, avoidance of food-related social situations, or even a loss of appetite to pain and migraines that impact your productivity and quality of life, TMD can have real, sometimes severe impacts on your daily existence. It should not be ignored or downplayed. Instead, you should be proactive about having it diagnosed and treated as soon as you recognize the cause of your symptoms.
Delaying your diagnosis, treatment, and resolution of the issue will only result in more suffering on your part. TMD will not correct itself, and over the counter pain medications will only dull the worst of the pain symptoms. Over time, the symptoms can increase and become truly debilitating.
The best and simplest approach to TMD treatment is to seek it out as soon as possible. Not only can a good dentist minimize your symptoms and help you prevent your TMD from getting worse, they may be able to help you reduce or eliminate the causes, greatly improving your quality of life and health!