Causes, Signs & Symptoms, and Treament

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TMJ Pain.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 disorders. 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, then, 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 we will recommend for you to do 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, we will do a thorough examination to try to pinpoint the problem area and suggest appropriate remedies.

Causes of TMD

TMJ Joint.As with any other joint, the TMJ can be subject to orthopedic problems including inflammation, sore muscles, strained tendons and ligaments, and disk problems. We also know that TMD is influenced by genes, gender (women appear to be more prone to it), and age. 

Signs and Symptoms of TMD

Clicking Sounds — Some people with TMD hear a clicking, popping or grating sound coming from the TMJ when opening or closing the mouth. This is usually caused by a shifting of the disk inside the joint. Someone standing next to you might even be able to hear it. Clicking by itself is actually not a significant symptom because one third of all people have jaw joints that click, studies show. However, if the clicking is accompanied by pain or limited jaw function — the jaw getting “stuck” in an open or closed position, for example — this would indicate TMD.

 TMD Muscle Pain Cycle.

Muscle Pain — This can be felt in the cheeks (masseter muscles) and temples (temporalis muscles), where the two big pairs of jaw-closing muscles are located. If you feel soreness and stiffness upon waking up in the morning, it's often related to habits such as clenching and/or grinding the teeth at night. If you have this type of nocturnal habit, we can have a nightguard custom-made for you that should be very helpful in decreasing the force applied to your teeth, which will in turn allow your muscles to relax and relieve pressure on your jaw joints. 

Relieving the Pain

Once we examine you, we will come up with a strategy for treating your condition and managing your pain. Sometimes a temporary change to a softer diet can reduce stress on the muscles and joints. Gum chewing can also contribute to increased stress on the jaw joints and should be avoided.  Ice and/or moist heat can help relieve soreness and inflammation. Muscles in spasm can also be helped with gentle stretching exercises. 

Other Treatment Options

Severe TMD cases may require more complex forms of treatment, which might include a mouthguard/splint, orthodontics, or dental restorations like bridgework. It's rare for major surgery ever to be necessary in a case of TMD. Again, it's important to try the wide range of conservative, reversible treatments available, and give them enough time to work as they almost always prove effective. The first step is to schedule a consultation with Dr. Trimmell, Dr. Anders, or Dr. Snider.  They will assess your specific symptoms and concerns and work with you to develop the most appropriate treatment plan for you.