What Is Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD)?
Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) refers to a group of related disorders that result from problems with the jaw or jaw joint, or facial muscles involved in jaw movement. TMD can cause discomfort and pain that may be constant or intermittent. These disorders are often incorrectly referred to as TMJ, which refers only to the temporomandibular joint itself.
Symptoms Of TMD
- Chronic facial pain in the face, jaw, neck and shoulders
- Chronic facial pain in or around the ear
- Limited ability to open the mouth wide
- Difficulty chewing
- Uncomfortable bite
- Swelling on one or both sides of the face
- Clicking or popping noises when opening the mouth
- Headaches and neck aches
These symptoms may arise from any number of easily identifiable and treatable causes, including sinus infections, tooth decay or gum disease.
What Are The Causes Of TMD?
Although there are many causes of TMD, common ones include:
- Trauma to the head or neck
- Oral habits such as clenching or grinding of the teeth
- “Bad” bite or missing teeth
- Malalignment of the upper and lower jaws
Teeth-grinding or bruxism, occurs when the jaws are clenched and the teeth grind against one another. Stress and anxiety are often blamed, but sleep disorders, abnormal bite, and missing or crooked teeth may also be causes. If left untreated, bruxism can lead to headaches, a sore jaw, or painful, loose or fractured teeth. It may sometimes lead to TMD.
TMJ Headaches & Migraines
Many can not believe that your jaw could be the reason for your headaches, however, it can. The TMJ, or temporomandibular joint, is a connective hinge from your jaw to your skill. This hinge allows us to do so many things including talking, laughing, chewing, the movement of our jaw up and down and side to side. This connection, if misaligned can cause a variety of symptoms, including headaches.
What Causes TMJ Headaches?
The temporomandibular joint combines a hinge action with sliding motions. The bones that work together are covered with cartilage and are separated by a small shock-absorbing disk. This keeps the movement of our jaws fluid and smooth.
TMJ headaches are a part of the disorder and are simply a byproduct of different factors creating stress and pain in the joint:
- Congenital alignment problems
- Jaw alignment problems
- Jaw injury
- Teeth clenching
- Teeth grinding
- Worn-down teeth creating bite issues
Symptoms Of TMJ Headaches
It’s important to track your symptoms and note the differences between a tension headache and a headache brought on by TMJ. TMJ headaches will usually have other accompanying symptoms:
- A cracking or grinding sound when you move your jaw
- Facial tenderness and pain
- Stiffness in the joint, making it difficult to open and close your mouth
Headaches originating from TMJ won’t have the same symptoms that severe headaches and migraines can have which include nausea, sensitivity to light or sound, and fatigue. But a TMJ headache can trigger a migraine if the patient is susceptible to developing them.
How Are TMJ Headaches Treated?
Treating the symptoms of a tension headache won’t help with TMJ headaches. It can mask the pain, but the underlying causes will still be there and headaches will continue. At NW Heights Dental, we treat the TMJ.
A variety of approaches are used to treat TMJ. These can run from relaxation exercises at home to anti-inflammatory medications, from traditional dental work to creating a splint for nighttime use. At NW Heights Dental, we’ve had good luck using night guards to keep patients from grinding their teeth. But sometimes, it’s a process of trial and error; we’ll try a certain approach and if it doesn’t have the desired effect, we’ll move to the next option.
These are some of the methods we use to help our patients overcome TMJ and its corresponding headaches:
- Cosmetic dentistry — To correct alignment, we can replace missing teeth with dental implants or bridges, crown overly worn teeth, or move the teeth with orthodontics. This can involve widening constricted arches.
- Splints or night guards — Night grinding and clenching is often a main factor in TMJ. To combat this, it’s important to put the jaw in the correct position at night. To do this, we fabricate plastic mouthpieces that fit over the upper and lower teeth. Patients usually wear them at night.
- Exercises — Tightening the jaw muscles and clenching the teeth is a common cause of TMJ problems. We have various jaw exercises that stimulate and relax the jaw muscles.
- Medication — Muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory medication can be effective.
- Lifestyle changes — Stress and anxiety are often root causes; stress reduction techniques are important.
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) — A small wand delivers small electrical pulses to the jaw muscles. These pulses stimulate the nerves, encouraging the muscles to relax and the jaw to fall into alignment.
Is There Treatment For TMD?
Yes, although treatments have different effects on different people. Some of the treatments may include:
- Stress-reduction exercises
- Muscle relaxants
- Low-level-laser therapy
- Mouth protectors to prevent-teeth grinding
- Change in diet to soft foods
- Heat/ice packs
- Avoidance of extreme jaw movements
More extensive corrective treatments may take the form of surgery or injections for pain relief. Surgery for TMD may include arthroscopy or open-joint surgery.