When it comes to problems with the jaw and the facial muscles, one of the most common causes is temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD. The condition is a broad term to describe the jaw pain and dysfunction that happens when something is structurally off with the hinging joint itself, a problem with the muscles that support it, or both. The muscles and joints of the jaws are so complex and full of nerve endings that when something goes wrong, it can cause symptoms from mild to acute. So what exactly is TMD, and what treatments are available? What does it have to do with orthodontics? But what exactly is it? What treatments are available? And how does this relate to orthodontics? We’re going to break it down for you below, so keep reading to find out more.

What is the difference between TMJ and TMD?

Although the two abbreviations are used interchangeably all the time, TMJ is not actually a disease or illness. It stands for temporomandibular joint, the hinge points that connects our jaw bones to our head. These are located directly in front of the ears, and give us the ability to speak and chew our food. The TMJ is incredibly mobile, and it rotates, glides, and acts as a powerful hinge all at once. This joint is surrounded by a number of complex protectors like tendons, muscles, and joint pads, and most of the time, all these components work well together. However, if they get thrown off course for any reason, it can lead to pain, popping, and inflammation. This is where TMD, or temporomandibular joint disorder, can come into play. This frustrating, and sometimes painful, set of conditions can be especially problematic when you consider that the TMJ is one of the joints our bodies use most often.

The symptoms and signs of TMD

Every case of TMD is different. Some people will experience only mild symptoms popping up sporadically, and others will have serious symptoms that take years to resolve. Some of the most common signs of TMD are:

  • pain or tenderness in the face, jaw joint, neck, and shoulders
  • pain in or around the ear when chewing, speaking, or opening the mouth wide
  • difficulty opening the mouth wide
  • jaws that get stuck or locked in an open- or closed-mouth position
  • popping or grating sounds in the jaw joint when you open or close your mouth
  • popping, grating, or other sounds in the jaw when chewing
  • face feeling “tired”
  • difficulty chewing
  • feeling as though your upper and lower teeth are not fitting together properly
  • swelling on the side of your face
  • ringing or stuffy ears

The symptoms of TMD can be similar to other common dental issues, such as tooth decay and gum disease, as well as medical conditions such as arthritis. For a proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment, it’s essential you have a thorough examination by an experienced dental and orthodontic professional like Dr. Craig and Dr. Streight.

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What are the causes of TMD?

TMD symptoms arise from a problem with the muscles of your jaw, or with the parts of the joint itself. While injury to your jaw, the joint, or the muscles of your head and neck is an obvious cause of TMD, other factors can include things like:

  • grinding or clenching your teeth, as this puts extra pressure on the joint
  • movement of the soft cushion or disc between the ball and socket of the joint
  • arthritis in the TMJ
  • stress, which can tighten your facial and jaw muscles, or cause you to clench the teeth

An untreated bad bite or misaligned jaw can also put undue stress on the sensitive, connected components of the TMJ, resulting in chronic shooting pain that may be felt throughout the face, neck, shoulders, back, and arms, among other symptoms.

How is TMD diagnosed?

Using innovative techniques and state-of-the-art technology, our doctors will generally be able to pinpoint the source of TMD. In order to present a patient with an accurate diagnosis of TMD, Dr. Craig and Dr. Streight will measure aspects of the teeth and jaw, determine the jaw’s proper resting position, and map the movement of the jaw during speaking and eating. Finding the source of the TMD and having a proper diagnosis provides our team with the foundation needed to create a customized treatment plan.

What are the treatment options for TMD?

Many people with TMD have relatively mild symptoms that only appear periodically and often improve on their own within a few weeks or months. Eating soft foods, applying ice or moist heat, and avoiding extreme jaw movements like wide yawning and gum chewing are helpful in easing these types of symptoms.

Conservative, reversible treatments are preferred whenever possible, as they don’t invade the tissues of the face, jaw, or joint, or involve surgery. These treatments shouldn’t produce any permanent changes in the structure or position of the jaw or teeth. Even if TMD symptoms become more persistent, most patients still won’t need more aggressive types of treatment.

An example of this kind of conservative treatment is splints or night guards. These plastic mouthpieces fit over the upper and lower teeth to keep them from touching, and wearing one of these can lessen the effects of clenching or grinding. They can also help correct the bite by putting teeth in a more desirable position.

For more troublesome cases of TMD, missing teeth may need to be replaced, and crowns and bridges may be used to balance the biting surfaces of the teeth. For patients who require more complex bite correction, orthodontic treatment such as braces or Invisalign may be required. If left untreated, TMD can lead to inflammation, swelling, and chronic pain. It can also contribute to progressive dental problems, such as premature tooth wear and periodontal disease. For this reason, we encourage anyone with TMD symptoms to get in touch with an experienced dentist or orthodontist like Dr. Craig and Dr. Streight to schedule a thorough examination.

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TMD diagnosis and treatment with Craig & Streight Orthodontics

Whether you have symptoms of TMD yourself, suspect it in a loved one, or simply wish to learn more about TMD diagnosis and treatment, get in touch with us today to schedule a consultation. We’re on the front line when it comes to providing first-class oral and orthodontic care!