Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders typically referred to as TMJ disorders or simply TMD, are painful for those who suffer from them, which includes some 10 million Americans. They typically require treatment by a specialist once they’ve set in. Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken to prevent this from ever happening. Let’s look at the types of TMD, their symptoms and causes, typical treatments, and ways to prevent TMJ disorders from occurring before treatments are needed.
What is TMD?
TMD refers to a group of disorders that cause dysfunction in the jaw area, including the jaw joint and surrounding muscles responsible for jaw movement.
There are three main types of TMD:
- Myofascial – This type causes discomfort and pain in the muscles responsible for jaw movement.
- Internal derangement of the joint – This type usually involves an injury inside the jaw joint, such as disc displacement, a condyle injury, or a dislocation of the jaw itself.
- Arthritis – This type refers to a group of degenerative or inflammatory conditions that affect the jaw joint.
A person can develop one, two, or even all three of these types of TMD.
What Causes TMD?
The specific type of TMJ disorder may be indicative of a probable cause. Myofascial TMD likely involves some strain or injury to the muscles. Internal derangement of the joint refers to an injury inside the jaw joint, while arthritis is caused by inflammation.
There are also some risk factors that may contribute to the onset of TMJ disorders, such as arthritis (including rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis), chronic grinding of the teeth, or certain connective tissue diseases.
However, there are cases where a patient develops pain without an apparent cause. Exact causes of TMD are often unclear. Some scientists are considering a link with female hormones since more women than men are affected by TMD. But this theory has not been confirmed. (See also: Are Your Headaches Caused by Jaw Tension?)
Because the precise causes of TMD are not yet understood or agreed upon, there is no standard test to diagnose TMD. Some symptoms may not even indicate TMD. For instance, facial pain without other symptoms may indicate another condition, such as sinus or ear infections, headaches, or nerve-related facial pain (facial neuralgias).
Symptoms of TMD
Between the three types, there is a wide variety of symptoms that might occur. Some people may experience all of them or just one. The symptoms include:
- Pain in the muscles responsible for chewing or the jaw joint
- Pain in the jaw, face, or neck
- Stiffness in the jaw muscle
- Limited jaw movement
- Locking jaw
- Clicking or grating of the jaw joint accompanied by pain during movement
- A shift in how the upper and lower sets of teeth align
How is TMD Treated?
Studies are still being done on the actual effectiveness of most TMD treatments. Even in the most persistent cases, it is generally agreed that aggressive treatments are not necessary. Therefore, experts recommend only receiving conservative and reversible treatments.
Conservative treatments would be those that don’t invade tissues in the face, jaw, or joint. They also include treatments that don’t require surgery. These types of treatments include:
- Over-the-counter painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen
- A biting guard or stabilization splint
Reversible treatments are those that don’t cause lasting changes in structure or position of the jaw or teeth. There are irreversible treatments that are offered by some providers, but they remain largely controversial. These include surgical treatments, such as replacing jaw joints altogether with artificial implants. This is not recommended by experts since it can result in severe pain, permanent damage, and deterioration or failure of the device.
How Can You Prevent TMD Altogether?
Due to the lack of understanding about the causes of TMD, it’s difficult to predict exactly what brings on symptoms. However, there are some simple steps that can be taken to reduce the risk. They can also be used to relieve pain when TMD presents itself. These steps include:
- Soft foods
- Avoiding chewing gum, which may or may not is linked to the onset of TMD
- Practicing relaxation techniques, since stress may be a risk factor
- Using proper safety equipment while exercising or playing sports to reduce the chance of injury to the jaw
- Avoiding grinding the teeth or clenching the jaw
Get to Know TMD Before it Strikes
TMD can strike at any time. It’s best to know the facts, including how to prevent and treat the pain of the various types of TMD, before it’s too late. By doing the preventative measures listed above, you will be protecting yourself as best you can.
About The Author:
Ken Marshall is a huge fan of living the best life possible. His health is extremely important to him and he currently enjoys doing work for Restore TMJ & Sleep Therapy. Other than that he enjoys blogging, hiking, and plenty of steaks.