Temporomandibular Disorders Explained

Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD) are conditions that involve the jaw, jaw joints, and facial muscles responsible for jaw movement and chewing. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is that hinge that serves as a connection between the mandible or lower jaw and the temporal bone of the skull. This joint is flexible to enable smooth movements of the jaw as you talk, yawn or chew. The muscles that surround that joint control the jaw's position and motion.

What are the Causes of TMD?
The exact cause of this disorder is not known.

Dentists, however, believe that the symptoms arise from problems with the jaw muscles or joint.

An injury to the jaw, neck or head can bring about this condition.

Other than this, it can also be caused by:
- teeth clenching or grinding
- dislocation of the disc between the ball and socket
- osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis in the joint
- stress that makes a person clench the teeth or tighten the muscles in the face or jaw

What are the Symptoms of TMD?
People suffering from this condition feel severe pain in the jaw area. The pain is often accompanied by extreme discomfort that can be temporary or lasting for years.

Other symptoms of TMD are:
- dizziness
- headaches
- toothaches
- neck aches
- hearing problems
- ringing in the ears
- swelling on one side of face
- limited ability to open the mouth
- pain and tenderness in the face, neck, shoulders and jaw joint
- clicking or popping sounds in the TMJ when opening or closing the mouth
- pain in and around the ear when chewing, speaking or opening the mouth wide

How is this condition Diagnosed?
Many medical conditions have symptoms that are similar to TMD, so a dentist will need to perform an intensive analysis of the patient's medical and family history.

Clinical examination will also be done to confirm the diagnosis. The dentist will examine the TMJ to find out if there is pain or tenderness and if there are other signs of TMD.

In some cases, a panoramic X-ray will be conducted to view the entire jaw, jaw joints, and teeth.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computer tomography (CT) scan may also be done.

How is TMD Treated?
There is a wide range of treatment methods available for this condition, from simple self-care measures to complex treatment and surgical procedures.

Most dentists recommend conservative noninvasive treatments first and resort to surgery only if none of the initial treatments work.

Basic methods of treating TMD include:
- consumption of soft foods
- simple stretching exercises for the jaw as instructed by the dentist
- application of hot or cold packs on one side of the face a few times a day
- medications to reduce pain and swelling such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

If these don't work, the dentist may recommend more advanced methods of treatment such as:
- splint or night guard
- low level laser therapy
- stress reduction therapy
- corrective dental treatments

For severe cases that cannot be treated by any of the methods mentioned above, following will be considered:
- radio wave therapy
- trigger-point injections
- transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
- surgical procedures (arthrocentesis, arthroscopy, and open-joint surgery)

 


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