When we think of the dentist, we usually think of cleaning our teeth and gums. But, caring for the jaw is also critically important to your dental and overall health. TMJ and jaw issues can plague anyone. The good news is that treatment can provide relief and restore normal function.
Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) are joint disorders associated with the jaw. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) acts as a hinge and connects your jaw to the temporal bones located in front of each ear to your skull. When you chew, yawn or generally open your mouth, this joint becomes active. Many people refer to the disorder of their jaw as TMJ, when it is actually called TMD. TMD is more common in women than men and people ages 20-40.
What causes TMD pain?
The cause for TMD disorder is unknown. However, dentists believe that it may be caused by any of the following reasons:
- Impact in the jaw area
- Grinding or clenching teeth
- A general misalignment
- Tension of the facial muscles
- Arthritis in the TMJ
While these are all viable reasons, the exact cause still remains unknown. Paying attention to the way your jaw feels and functions can help you decide on the next best steps to take.
What are the symptoms of TMD?
TMD and similar disorders do have signs and symptoms. However, it can be hard to tell the difference between symptoms of TMD and a number of other disorders.
Rather than self-diagnosing, seek professional help and visit your family dentist. By looking at your medical and dental history and giving you a dental exam and X-rays, your dentist can make a diagnosis and recommend the best treatment option. Some symptoms that may trigger a trip to the dentist are:
- Pain and/or tenderness in your jaw or face, or near your ear when moving your jaw
- Swelling in your face
- Difficulty with chewing or the inability to take a bite due to jaws being misaligned
- Face or jaw feeling tired
- Inability to open your mouth wide at times or the feeling of your jaw getting stuck in either the open or closed position
- Clicking, popping or cracking sounds when moving your jaw
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, make sure you schedule a visit with your dentist to ensure your mouth is functioning properly and no care is needed.
How is TMD diagnosed?
Your dentist will check your TMJ by listening to any sounds your jaw makes and looking for out of the ordinary movements. Your jaw will be checked for proper functioning by opening and closing your mouth.
Your dentist will also make sure your facial muscles are moving properly and check for any teeth clenching or grinding via a dental exam. X-rays may be necessary to get a full view of your mouth. Your dentist may also do a CT scan or an MRI if the X-ray doesn’t offer enough information. If your dentist feels it’s required, they will refer you to an oral surgeon for further care.
How is TMD treated?
If your trip to the dentist concludes with a TMD diagnosis, there are things you or your dentist can do to ease discomfort. Initially, your dentist may suggest home remedies to see what provides relief. Taking anti-inflammatory, over the counter drugs like Ibuprofen along with using a hot/cold pack will temporarily relieve any pain or swelling associated with TMD disorder.
Avoiding awkward jaw movements and clenching or grinding will help relieve tension. Clenching and grinding are often related to stress and anxiety, so learning relaxation techniques such as meditation can help as well.
If home remedies aren’t doing the trick, your dentist may suggest other varieties of treatment. A bite or plate splint can be custom-fitted to your mouth to guard your teeth against harmful grinding and clenching while you’re sleeping. Trigger point injections may also be used to temporarily relieve pain in your jaw and relax the muscles and joints. If these treatments are still unsuccessful, your dentist may recommend oral surgery.
TMD disorder can be uncomfortable and bothersome. But your dentist will be able to help you relieve any discomfort you may be feeling. Remember never to rely on a self-diagnosis for TMD. The wrong treatment could further damage your jaw.
If you or someone you love are experiencing any of the above symptoms, schedule a dentist appointmenttoday. West Chester Dental Arts is armed with a team of highly trained professionals that are ready to help make your mouth its healthiest yet!