What is Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD)?
Most of us take simple things like chewing, speaking, or simply being able to open our mouths for granted. Most of the time, we don’t think about what is involved in these activities until something goes wrong and makes them difficult or painful.
Among the most complex joints in the body, the temporomandibular joints (TMJ) are the two joints which connect your lower jaw with your skull. These small joints are located just in front of each ear and combined with several muscles, they are what allow your jaw to move up and down, side to side, and forward and back.
What is TMD?
When the lower jaw, or mandible, and the joints are aligned properly, they function smoothly. Being small and delicate, however, they may experience several disorders collectively known as temporomandibular disorder (TMD). This may be the result of injury, inflammation, or deterioration related to an autoimmune disease such as arthritis. Even overuse, such as excessive chewing of gum, may cause injury, as can the clenching or grinding of the teeth, known as bruxism.
Although TMJ and TMD sound similar and you may hear them used almost interchangeably, they refer to different things; TMJ refers to the joint itself, while TMD refers to the conditions that affect the joint, including:
The most common form of TMD, this is pain in the fascia (connective tissue that covers the muscles) and the muscles controlling the function of the jaw, neck, and shoulder.
Internal Derangement of the Joint
This may be a dislocated jaw. Alternately, it could be injury to the condyle, which is the rounded ends of the jawbone, or a displaced disk.
Degenerative Joint Disease
This may be osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis in the joint.
Symptoms of TMD
There are a variety of symptoms associated with TMD, including:
- Pain or tenderness in the jaw
- Aching pain around the ear
- Pain behind the eyes, or in the neck, shoulder, or back
- Aching facial pain
- Difficulty chewing
- Pain when chewing
- Locking of the joint, making it difficult to open and close your mouth
- Clicking of the jaw
- Clenching and/or grinding of the teeth
- Tooth sensitivity unrelated to other oral health issues
Any time you have persistent jaw pain or tenderness, or when you cannot open or close your mouth fully, you should discuss the issue with your dentist.
Just as there are many symptoms of TMD, there are many treatments and your dentist will determine which is the best option for you based on several factors including your age, general health, and how long the condition might last. Your preference for treatment will be considered, as will your tolerance for certain medications and procedures.
Treatment may include medication and painkillers, resetting the joint, and physical therapy. A PPM mouthguard may be recommended for those who grind or clench their teeth at night. Even diet changes to rest the jaw muscles may be indicated.
If you are suffering any of the above symptoms and are concerned about TMD, consult your dentist, who will be able to offer a clear diagnosis, as well as a course for treatment.