TMJ actually isn’t an acronym; it is simply short for the temporomandibular joint. You have one of these joints on both sides of your face. Both joints are attached to your jaw at the bottom of your skull. When people describe “TMJ”, they are often referring to the pain caused by a misalignment or improper movement of these joints. The proper word for this disorder is actually TMD, which is an acronym for “temporomandibular joint disorder”. This is typically caused in adults between 20 and 40 years of age, and affects about 15% of people within this age range. Women tend to suffer from TMD more than men.
One of the most complicated joints in your entire body is the temporomandibular joint, as it consists of a sliding hinge which allows your jaw to not only move up and down, but also side to side, and back to front. It is also comprised of a specific piece of cartilage which is good for absorbing shock and helps to keep your bones strong and well-maintained.
Some common symptoms associated with TMD include:
- Pain in either one or both of your temporomandibular joints
- Pain in your jaw, face, and neck
- Painful chewing
- Stiff jaw muscles
- Feeling as though your teeth don’t quite fit right when you bite down
If you are experiencing a clicking or popping sound when you chew or move your jaw, this is not necessarily a sign of TMD. Clicking and popping accompanied with pain, however, is a common symptom.
TMD is often a temporary problem, however, for some people it can be a chronic problem that causes pain for years.
What Causes TMD?
TMD has many possible causes, although the exact cause is not entirely clear. Professionals believe the pain associated with TMD is the result of problems such as:
- Teeth grinding (this often occurs during the night while you are sleep)
- A tightening of the jaw and facial muscles due to stress
- A dislocation of the disc or soft cushion located between the ball and socket
- Rheumatoid arthritis in the TMJ
- Osteoarthritis in the TMJ
- Injury or dislocation of the jaw
Something to keep in mind is that there has yet to be evidence to show that braces are a cause of TMD, so if you are experiencing symptoms of TMD which coincide with new braces, it may be due to other causes.
How Is TMD Diagnosed?
Diagnosis of TMD involves a simple examination from your dentist, who will check your TMJ for symptoms such as tenderness and pain. Your dentist will also determine if your jaw is locking or has a limited range of motion, and will also examine your bite. Your dentist may also listen for a popping or clicking sound when you move your jaw. In some cases, panoramic x-rays may be required, or you may be referred to an oral surgeon.
How Is TMD Treated?
There are many different treatments for TMD. The most common treatment is to use a splint or a night guard given to you by your dentist or oral surgeon.
Other common forms of treatment include:
- Muscle relaxers
- Prescription painkillers
- A plastic mouth guard, which will prevent you from grinding your teeth at night
- Braces, to reposition your teeth for a better bite
- Crowns or bridges to reshape your bite
- Anti-inflammatory shots consisting of steroids or other medication, injected directly into the jaw muscles
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS
- Teeth filing by your doctor, in order to give you the ability to close your mouth more evenly
- Laser therapy, which involves sending infrared light toward the joint and tissue, which helps with pain
There are also alternative options available, including:
- Relaxation techniques to reduce stress, such as deep breathing and meditation
- Biofeedback, which involves electronic devices which monitor muscle tightness, and can help you to practice relaxation techniques more effectively
As surgery is permanent, surgical methods of treatment should be considered as a last resort. It is generally a good idea to get multiple professional’s opinions before deciding on surgery.
Surgical procedures that can be used to treat TMD include:
- Arthrocentesis, which is the cleaning out of scar tissue caused by inflammation such as arthritis
- Arthroscopy, in which you doctor will guide small surgical instruments into your jaw joints by the use of a tube
- Modified condylotomy, in which the TMJ is treated indirectly via surgery on the mandible, rather than the joint itself. This treatment is especially good if a painful jaw locking is the main symptom
Some things you can do to ease the pain of TMD are:
- Eat soft foods
- Limit the movement of your jaw as much as you can
- Use over-the-counter medication to relieve the pain
- Engage in exercises meant to stretch and relax your jaw
- Cover your jaw with hot or cold compresses
- Do what you can to relieve stress and anxiety
What Are the Results of Untreated TMD?
TMD, if left untreated, can result in a number of problems. These include:
- Deteriorated oral health
- Digestion problems caused by poor eating habits
- Problems with your hearing
It should go without saying that the longer you put off finding a solution for your TMD, the worse your problems can become. If you are experiencing symptoms of TMD, contact your dentist immediately for an examination. Getting treatment sooner will save you a lot of pain and money later.