Temporomandibular Disorders (TMJ/TMDs)

What is it?

TMD/TMJ describes a group of diseases that involve jaw joints, the muscles that control jaw movement and tooth contact. Temporomandibular Disorders (TMDs) are often called TMJ by doctors and patients, though TMJ actually refers to the jaw joints themselves.

Who is at risk?

TMJ affects millions of adults and children, and can be caused by trauma (an accident, teeth clenching or excessive gum chewing), brought on by stress or for no apparent reason at all. Normal structure and function of all the jaw system parts, including muscles, nervous system, ligaments, joints, bones, cartilage, and dental bite are all required healthy function. This is why a bad bite, systemic diseases and developmental abnormalities can also cause TMJ.

Symptoms Include

  • Headaches
  • Facial and dental pain
  • Jaw pain
  • Ear or eye pain
  • Clicking/popping in jaw joints
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Limited mouth opening
  • Limited range of motion for head
  • Uncomfortable bite
  • Changing bite
  • Ringing in ears, or muffled sound
  • Worn-down teeth
  • Clenching/bruxing
  • Neck, back and shoulder pain
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness

Chronic pain and TMJ

Sometimes, patients labeled with “chronic pain” discover their source of pain is related to TMJ. These patients may be treating only the psychological part of their disorder and not aware that there is a possible physical source for this pain, which may be TMJ. A thorough analysis of patients suffering from undiagnosed pain is needed to try to determine a physical source. Early and appropriate treatment of TMJ may avoid the progression to chronic pain.

Diagnosis and Treatment

A dentist may ask a patient who is experiencing some of the TMJ symptoms some questions and use an exam to diagnose TMJ. From this point, depending on the cause of the patient’s TMJ, treatment varies.

Non-surgical treatments include being fitted for an occlusal guard to be worn while the patient is sleeping. This will help jaw joints heal, and prevent nighttime teeth clenching or grinding. Physical therapy, medications such as anti-inflammatory drugs and stress management may also be part of the treatment.

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