TMJ Disorders and TMD – Symptoms and Causes

a woman having TMJ pain

What is TMJ?

The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, is where the lower jaw connects to the temporal bones on the side of the head. You can feel the joint on each side of your head if you put your fingers in front of your ears and open your mouth. Because of how these joints work, the jaw can move easily up and down and side to side. This joint lets us talk, chew, and yawn. The position and movement of the jaw joint are controlled by the muscles attached to and around it.

What are TMDs (Temporomandibular Disorders)?

Today, most researchers agree that there are three main types of temporomandibular disorders:

Myofascial pain: This is the most common type of TMD. It causes pain or discomfort in the muscles that move the jaw and the muscles in the neck and shoulders.

Internal derangement of the joint: This can happen if the jaw is out of place, the disc is out of place, or the condyle is hurt.

The degenerative joint disease includes osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other conditions that affect the jaw joint.

A person can have more than one of these at the same time.

Causes of TMJ Disorders

A jaw or temporomandibular joint injury can cause some TMDs, but most cases do not know the exact cause. Many people seem to start having symptoms for no clear reason. Recent research shows that genes, psychological and life stressors, and how a person feels about pain may all play a role in why a TMD starts and how long it lasts.

Some experts think that physical or mental stress may cause or make TMD worse. TMD patients often grind or clench their teeth at night, leading to jaw pain and fatigue. Scientists are trying to figure out how physical, mental, and behavioural factors might work together to cause TMD.

Symptoms

It’s important to know that clicking or popping sounds in the TMJs that don’t cause pain are common, considered normal, and don’t need treatment.

But the following signs may point to a TMD:

-Chewing muscle pain and jaw joint pain (most common symptom).

-Face or neck pain.

-Jaw stiffness.

-Jaw movement is limited or locked.

-A painful clicking, popping, or grating sensation when opening or closing the mouth.

-Hearing loss, dizziness, or ringing in the ears.

-A change in the way the upper and lower teeth fit together.

Diagnosis of TMJ Disorders

There is no universally accepted, standard test for diagnosing TMDs. These disorders can be difficult to identify because the causes and symptoms are unclear.

The dentist will feel the jaw joints and chewing muscles for pain or tenderness during the appointment. They will also listen for sounds like clicking, popping, or grating when you move your jaw. They will also check for limited motion or locking when opening or closing your mouth. It is also important to look at the patient’s dental and medical history.

In fact, in about 90% of cases, the patient’s description of symptoms and a physical exam of the face and jaw are enough to diagnose these disorders and suggest a treatment plan.

Nonsurgical Treatments

Many problems with the jaw joint and muscles are temporary and don’t get worse, so a simple treatment may be enough.

Nonsurgical treatment may include:

-Eating something soft.

-Using heat or cold on your face and do exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles in your jaw gently.

-Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Ibuprofen that you can buy without a prescription.

-Cut back on bad habits like clenching your jaw, chewing gum, or biting your nails.

If these steps don’t help, or if your dentist/doctor diagnoses a specific type of TMD during this process, they may recommend one or more of the following treatments:

-Physical Therapy.

-Self-Management and Behavioral Health Approaches.

-Medications.

-Intraoral Appliances.

Surgical Treatments

In open surgery, the temporomandibular joint is reached through a cut next to the ear. It’s important to know that surgery permanently changes your joints. There are no long-term studies on how safe open surgery is for TMDs or how well it works to relieve symptoms.

Surgery should only be considered if:

  • The joint’s destruction cannot be fixed with other procedures.
  • Despite trying other treatments, there are severe symptoms (pain and difficulty opening the mouth).

Takeaway

If you think you have a TMD, consult your dentist first, start with simple treatments, and learn all you can about the TMD you have.