People who grind their teeth can sometimes develop a serious problem with their jaw, which left untreated, can adversely affect the teeth, gums and bone structures of the mouth. One of the most common jaw disorders is related to a problem with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), the joint that connects your lower jaw to your skull, and allows your upper and lower jaw to open and close and facilitates chewing and speaking.(281) 852-2288
If you experience ongoing pain in the area near your ear, your jaw or the muscles on the side of your face, possibly accompanied by a clicking or popping sound or restricted jaw movement, you may be suffering from TMD — an abbreviation for Temporomandibular Disorder. Sometimes people incorrectly use the term TMJ to refer to these problems, when in fact TMJ is the abbreviation for the temporomandibular joint — or jaw joint — itself. So, while you definitely have a TMJ (two of them in fact), you may or may not have TMD.
TMD describes a group of conditions characterized by pain and dysfunction of the TMJ and/or the muscles surrounding it. It’s not always so easy to figure out exactly what’s causing these symptoms, but the good news is that most TMD cases resolve themselves with the help of conservative remedies that you can try at home. In fact, it’s important to exhaust all such reversible remedies before moving on to anything irreversible, such as bridgework or surgery.
The two TMJs that connect your lower jaw, the mandible, to the temporal bone of the skull on either side, are actually very complex joints that allow movement in three dimensions. The lower jaw and temporal bone fit together as a ball and socket, with a cushioning disk in between. Large pairs of muscles in the cheeks and temples move the lower jaw. Any of these parts — the disk, the muscles or the joint itself — can become the source of a TMD problem. If you are in pain, or are having difficulty opening or closing your jaw, a thorough examination can help pinpoint the problem area; then an appropriate remedy can be recommended.
As with any other joint, the TMJ can be subject to orthopedic problems including inflammation, sore muscles, strained tendons and ligaments, and disk problems. Genes, gender (women appear to be more prone to it), and age are often factors in TMD. Physical and psychological stress can also be a factor. In some cases, jaw pain may be related to a more widespread, pain-inducing medical condition such as fibromyalgia (“fibro” – connective tissues; “myo” – muscle; “algia” – pain).
Minor cases of TMD involve discomfort or pain in the jaw muscles. More serious conditions involve improperly aligned joints or dislocated jaws. The most extreme form of TMD involves an arthritic condition of the jaw joint. Traumatic injuries also can cause jaw dislocation. In major cases, jaw surgery can correct the condition. Some jaw surgery occurs arthroscopically.
People with TMD often have a clicking or popping sound when opening and closing their mouths. Such disorders are often accompanied by frequent headaches, neck aches, and in some cases, tooth sensitivity. Other signs and symptoms of TMD include:
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After examination, we complete a strategy for treating your condition and managing your pain. This may include a temporary change to softer foods, using ice and moist heat to relieve soreness. Gentle stretches can help muscles in spasm. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications also provide relief. Additionally, muscle relaxants, aspirin, biofeedback, or sleeping with a small plastic appliance helps.
Severe TMD cases may require more complex forms of treatment. This may include orthodontics, dental restorations, and bridgework. It may also include minor procedures inside the joint such as cortisone injections or lavage (flushing) of the joint. It’s rare for major surgery ever to be necessary in a case of TMD. We implore a wide range of conservative, reversible treatments, giving them ample time to work to test effectiveness. The first step is an examination at the dental office. To learn more about available treatment options, view this Chart on TMD Therapy.