These disorders are often incorrectly called TMJ, for temporomandibular joint.
What Is the Temporomandibular Joint?
The temporomandibular joint is the hinge joint that connects the lower jaw (mandible) to the temporal bone of the skull, which is immediately in front of the ear on each side of your head.
The joints are flexible, allowing the jaw to move smoothly up and down and side to side and enabling you to talk, chew and yawn. Muscles attached to and surrounding the jaw joint control the position and movement of the jaw.
The temporomandibular joint is different from the body’s other joints. The combination of hinge and sliding motions makes this joint among the most complicated in the body. Also, the tissues that make up the temporomandibular joint differ from other load-bearing joints, like the knee or hip.
Because of its complex movement and unique makeup, the jaw joint and its controlling muscles can pose a tremendous challenge to both patients and health care providers when problems arise.
What Causes TMD?
The cause of TMD is not clear, but dentists believe that symptoms arise from problems with the muscles of the jaw or with the parts of the joint itself.
Injury to the jaw, temporomandibular joint, or muscles of the head and neck – such as from a heavy blow or whiplash – can cause TMD. Other possible causes include:
- Grinding or clenching the teeth, which puts a lot of pressure on the TMJ
- Dislocation of the soft cushion or disc between the ball and socket
- Presence of osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis in the TMJ
- Stress, which can cause a person to tighten facial and jaw muscles or clench the teeth
People with TMD can have severe pain and discomfort that can be temporary or last for many years. More women than men experience TMD, and TMD is seen most commonly in people between the ages of 20 and 40.
How Is TMD Diagnosed?
Because many other conditions can cause similar symptoms – including a toothache, sinus problems, arthritis, or even gum disease – your dentist will conduct a careful patient history and physical exam to determine the cause of your TMD symptoms. Read more about the state of the art tool Dr. Staton uses to diagnose TMD.
What Treatments Are Available for TMD?
Treatments for TMD range from simple self-care practices to surgery. Most experts agree that treatment should begin with conservative, nonsurgical therapies first, with surgery left as the last resort.
Most people with temporomandibular disorders have relatively mild or periodic symptoms that may improve on their own within weeks or months with simple home therapy.
WebMD recommends these basic home treatments for TMD:
- Apply moist heat or cold packs. Apply an ice pack to the side of your face and temple area for about 10 minutes. Do a few simple stretching exercises for your jaw (as instructed by your dentist or physical therapist). After exercising, apply a warm towel or washcloth to the side of your face for about 5 minutes. Perform this routine a few times each day.
- Eat soft foods. Eat soft foods such as yogurt, mashed potatoes, cottage cheese, soup, scrambled eggs, fish, cooked fruits and vegetables, beans and grains. In addition, cut foods into small pieces to lessen the amount of chewing required. Avoid hard and crunchy foods (like hard rolls, pretzels, raw carrots), chewy foods (like caramels and taffy), and thick and large foods that require your mouth to open wide to fit.
- Avoid extreme jaw movements. Keep yawning and chewing to a minimum (especially with gum or ice) and avoid extreme jaw movements such as yelling or singing.
- Don’t rest your chin on your hand or hold the telephone between your shoulder and ear. Practice good posture to lessen neck and facial pain.
- Keep your teeth slightly apart as often as you can to relieve pressure on the jaw. To control clenching or grinding during the day, place your tongue between your teeth.
- Learning relaxation techniques to help control muscle tension in the jaw. Ask Dr. Staton about the need for physical therapy or massage. Consider stress reduction therapy, including biofeedback.
- Take medications. To relieve muscle pain and swelling, try nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil, Aleve, Motrin), which can be bought over-the-counter.
The conservative, reversible treatments described above are useful for temporary relief of pain, but they are not cures for TMJ disorders. If symptoms continue over time, come back often, or worsen, you should make an appointment with your dentist to discuss further treatment options, such as prescription medications or splints.
If you are suffering from TMD/TMJ, and live in the Fort Smith area, please feel free to contact our office for assistance.