The temporomandibular joint, more commonly referred to as TMJ, is the joint that connects your jaw to the temporal bones of the skull. A condition known as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) occurs when this joint is injured or damaged. This causes problems affecting the chewing muscles and the overall function of the jaw. Some estimates suggest that up to 30% of adults will experience TMD at some point during their lifetime. Although it’s not usually a serious condition, the symptoms associated with TMD can significantly affect the sufferer’s quality of life.
Symptoms of TMD
There are several symptoms associated with TMD. These include, but are not limited to:
- Muscle pain in and around the jaw
- Clicking, grinding, or popping noises when you chew or move your mouth
- Pain in the front of the ear, which may spread to the cheek, ear, and temple
- Persistent earache, tinnitus, a buzzing or blocked sensation inside the ear
- Difficulty opening the mouth, a jaw that feels stiff or stuck
- Swelling of the face or jaw
- Persistent headaches or migraines
- Tender jaw muscles
- Pain in the neck or back
Symptoms of TMD can create further problems such as difficulty eating, swallowing, hearing, and sleeping.
Causes of TMD
So, what exactly causes TMD? A variety of factors could contribute to the condition, including but not limited to:
- Injury to the jaw joint
- Wear and tear to the jawbone, usually as a result of osteoarthritis
- Persistent clenching of the jaw (often due to stress)
- Bruxism, usually done subconsciously while you’re asleep
- An uneven bite, which sometimes comes after fitting dental crowns, dentures, or new fillings
- Stress, which causes people to clench their jaw or grind their teeth
- Specific medical conditions such as fibromyalgia, gout, or arthritis
Treating TMD with TMJ Therapy
If you have been diagnosed with TMD, you can do some things to help alleviate your symptoms – namely TMJ therapy. The process consists of a selection of different treatments to reduce the impact of your condition. These are often used in combination with one another.
TMJ Therapy Treatments
Several TMJ therapy treatments work well with one another. These include:
Choosing Soft Food
Soft foods require far less chewing, allowing your jaws to rest and preventing swelling. You should avoid anything that requires you to open your mouth too widely – or try cutting up food into tiny pieces. You should also avoid foods that are sticky, hard, or crunchy. Swap French fries for mashed potatoes, hard cheese for soft cheese, and fish for meat.
Hot/Cold Therapy and Manipulation
Another popular treatment for TMD involves hot/cold therapy and manipulation. Ice packs, moist heat, and gentle manipulation can help relax tight muscles. Your dentist will recommend some physical therapy exercises to do after hot/cold applications. This helps alleviate pain and stiffness caused by TMD.
Splints are designed to fit over the teeth and prevent them from coming together, making it difficult for you to clench or grind them. Vero Dental Spa can advise if a splint is right for you, when you should start wearing it, and how long the treatment will last.
Multiple over-the-counter and prescription medicines may help to reduce the symptoms associated with TMD. These include non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), muscle relaxants, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety drugs.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
TENS is commonly used to relieve tightness and pain in the back during labor but can be just as useful for TMD pain. It uses low levels of electrical current to relax the muscles and alleviate pain.
During this type of treatment, your dentist will inject pain relief directly into the affected facial muscles. Once it’s begun to work, your dentist will then support you while you perform some simple exercises to help stretch your jaw muscles.
Surgery is usually only performed when a patient has tried all other treatment options with no success. If your TMD is due to a degenerative disease, your dentist or doctor may recommend surgery as the only viable option to treat your condition.
There are two primary surgeries used as part of TMJ therapy: arthroscopy and open joint surgery. Both involve creating an incision in the front of the ear. While arthroscopy uses a small thin video lead to examine the TMJ through a tiny incision, open joint surgery involves operating on the joint in direct vision, thus requiring a bigger opening. Both need general anesthetic and some recovery time, but scarring is almost always minimal.
If you have any further questions or concerns regarding TMJ therapy, contact Vero Dental Spa today. We will be happy to advise you!