Do you find yourself suffering with constant pain in your jaw or ears that gets worse when you are eating or talking? If so, there is a possibility that you have temporomandibular dysfunction (TMD). Even if you have never heard of TMD, it is in fact very common – by some estimates, 10 million people in the United States suffer from the problem.
When you have TMD, you have a problem with the joint in your jaw or the muscles that are responsible for moving it when you speak or chew. The jaw joint is also known as the temporomandibular joint, and provides the hinge that connects your lower jaw to the upper part of your skull. This joint is normally very flexible – not only does it allow your jaw to move up and down, but it also can move from side to side. However, TMD often restricts the ability to move this joint or makes it very painful to do so.
It’s not entirely clear why people get TMD, although it does appear that it is related to problems with the jaw muscles or the joint itself. TMD can occur if the jaw is struck a hard blow or undergoes rapid acceleration – for instance with whiplash. However, in many other cases, the cause is less obvious. One common reason people appear to get TMD is that they clench or grind their teeth, which creates a significant amount of pressure on the joint. TMD is also associated with stress – this can cause people to clench the muscles in their face or jaw, which again applies abnormal forces to the jaw joint. Other causes include arthritis, as well as a dislocated disc in the jaw joint – the disc is the soft material that cushions the joint when it moves, preventing bone from rubbing against bone.
TMD can have a wide range of different symptoms. In some cases, it can simply make the face feel tired, whereas in others it can cause severe tenderness or pain that affects the jaw, face, shoulders and neck. TMD can cause the jaw to become stuck either closed or open, or can limit how wide the mouth can be opened. Another manifestation is when people experience popping or clicking sounds when they speak or eat – in some cases, pain accompanies these noises, while other people experience no pain at all. Other symptoms include earache, toothache, dizziness and ringing ears – although some of these can be due to other conditions such as tooth decay, problems with the sinuses or gum disease.
Because the symptoms of TMD vary and can also be caused by other conditions, it is important to have a dentist who is an expert in TMD carry out a thorough examination to determine the actual cause – such as this dentist who offers TMJ treatment in Lawrence, KS. This examination typically includes taking a full patient history to determine whether there are any potential behaviors that could cause TMD – for example, some habits such as biting on pencils can actually trigger the condition. The dentist will also examine the degree of movement in the joint and take x-rays to look for any structural problems or disease.
Often, cases of TMD will get better over time without any specific treatments – in this case, a dentist will provide recommendations on how to cope with the pain and help the condition resolve itself more quickly. These recommendations can include applying warm or cold wet cloths to reduce pain levels in sore jaw muscles, or even massaging the jaw gently to accomplish the same effect. It is also important to relax the muscles in the jaw, and opening the jaw too wide should also be avoided – yawning can be particularly damaging unless it is kept under strict control during the healing period. It is also a good idea to avoid putting undue stress on the jaw when eating – consuming soft foods and avoiding sticky or chewy ones can help to accelerate the healing process.
In other cases, TMD does need to be treated. Often, these treatments are relatively gentle – such as learning relaxation techniques or undergoing physiotherapy. Another approach is to use a night guard – this is a plastic splint that is placed in the mouth at night to prevent the teeth in the upper and lower jaw from biting down on each other. In rare cases, surgery is needed – this is usually a last resort when all other treatments have failed, although if the jaw is extremely difficult to open then surgery may be the only option.