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Temporomandibular Joint Disorders: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

Written by Danica Lacson on September 28, 2018

What are Temporomandibular Joint Disorders?

Temporomandibular joint disorders or TMD is a term used to describe the pain and impairment of the muscles of mastication which are responsible for the motions of the jaw, and of the temporomandibular joints.

TMD is usually characterized by pain and restricted mandibular movements. Although not life-threatening, TMD affects the quality of life as symptoms can become difficult to manage.

What causes Temporomandibular Joint Disorders?

The particular cause of temporomandibular joint disorder is unknown, but dentists postulate that symptoms are due to problems with jaw muscles or other parts of the joint. Also, injury to the jaw, joint, or the head and neck muscles such as a massive blow, arthritis in the joint, or movement of the disc between the ball and socket of the joint can result to TMD.

Grinding or clenching of the teeth can develop to the disorder because of the pressure it puts on the joint. Stress can also tighten the facial and jaw muscles.

TMD is often indicated by severe discomfort or pain that can be temporary or last for many years. It can also affect one or both sides of the face.

What are the symptoms of Temporomandibular Joint Disorders?

  • Pain or tenderness in the jaw joint region, neck, shoulders, face, and the ear when the mouth is open wide or during activities that require the opening of the mouth such as eating and speaking.
  • Locked Jaw
  • A clicking, cracking, or grating sound in the joint area when the mouth is opened or closed
  • Tired feeling in the face
  • Uncomfortable bite
  • Inflammation on the side of the face

Aside from the symptoms stated above, TMD can cause toothaches, headaches, pain in the upper shoulder, earaches, hearing problems, tinnitus, and neck aches.

The symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorder are usually like other dental problems that it might not be easily detected.

How are Temporomandibular Joint Disorders treated?

To correctly diagnose the disorder, a physical examination must be conducted. The exam is also to determine the probable cause of TMD.

The dentist will have to check the patient’s jaw joints for indications, test the bite, and problems with the facial muscles. A full X-ray might also be done to view the jaws, TMJ, and teeth. In some cases, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computer tomography (CT) might be recommended to properly see the position of the TMJ disc as the jaw moves and the details of the joint.

The dentist might also suggest seeing an oral surgeon who is expert in the oral and maxillofacial areas for further assessment and treatment.

Home remedies for TMD include:

  • Over-the-counter medications
  • Heat or cold packs
  • Change in the diet to soft foods
  • Avoiding activities that can trigger temporomandibular joint disorders such as extreme jaw movements, resting the chin on the hand, keeping the teeth slightly apart
  • Relaxation techniques or therapy

On the one hand, traditional treatments for TMD include:

  • Medications
  • Nightguard
  • Dental work to balance the biting surfaces and correct bite problems

If the above treatments were not effective, the patient might have to undergo transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), ultrasound, trigger-point injections, radio wave therapy, and low-level laser therapy.

TMD might also require surgery, depending on the case, Surgeries for TMD include arthrocentesis, arthroscopy, and open-joint surgery.

How can Temporomandibular Joint Disorders be prevented?

There are ways an individual can do to prevent or at least reduce the risk of developing temporomandibular disorders which include resolving tooth grinding, managing stress levels, learning to relax the facial muscles, and avoiding chewing gum or other chewing foods.

Resolving Tooth Grinding

Teeth grinding places heavy press and stress on the jaw which can lead to jaw pain and TMD. Those who grind their teeth can approach their dentist for recommendation on how to address the issue.

Often, dentists will recommend the use of mouth guards as means of protection against the force exerted by teeth grinding and teeth clenching, protecting both the teeth and the jaw in the process.

Managing Stress Levels

Teeth grinding or clenching is usually caused by high stress or anxiety levels which result to tense muscles and joints.

There are various ways you can do toe reduce your stress levels such as balancing life and work, taking time off your hectic schedule, going on a relaxing trip, getting enough sleep, and seeking professional help.

Learning To Relax Facial Muscles

Tensed muscles increase the chance of TMD from developing. Find out the cause behind the tension of your body and address it. Moreover, you can seek therapy or relaxation techniques.

Avoid Chewing Gum And Other Chewy Foods

It is okay to chew gum or eat chewy foods every now and then. However, limit your intake of chewy foods as the continuous chewing can strain and put pressure on the jaw.

If you can't say no to chewy foods, make sure to take breaks between eating them to give your jaw time to recuperate and relax a bit.

Disclaimer: The oral health information published on this web page is solely intended for educational purposes. Hawaii Family Dental strongly recommends to always consult licensed dentists or other qualified health care professionals for any questions concerning your oral health.


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