November, for every Florida dentist, means it’s TMJ awareness month. TMJ is short for temporomandibular joints, and the associated dysfunction is shortened to TMD. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), over ten million Americans suffer from this condition. Despite that, few people know anything substantial about TMJ/TMD, what it means, what the symptoms are, and how to cope with it. Since TMJ awareness month rolls around again, we’ve decided to refresh your knowledge about TMJ and all the problems that can come with TMD.
What Is Your TMJ Exactly?
Your temporomandibular joint is a consolidated structure consisting of the muscles and joints that connect your jaw together. The best way to think about the TMJ is as a sliding hinge. When you swallow, chew, or speak, it slides open to let you do these things. The entire construction runs on both sides of your head up to just under your ears. Each one of these sides is a disc that’s between a socket and a ball joint. When this system starts to malfunction is when you begin experiencing TMD.
WebMD acknowledges that while we might notice symptoms of TMD, no one is exactly sure what causes it. Several reasons can lead to a patient contracting TMD, including whiplash or a sudden strike to the jaw. Grinding your teeth or disc erosion are also potential triggers to getting TMD. TMJ disorders are categorized by pain in your jaw joint and in the muscles that control its movement. Women tend to get TMD more often than men, and it’s most common in people between the ages of twenty and forty.
Typical Symptoms of TMD
TMD can occur in individuals that might not even be aware that they’re suffering from the issue. We’ve seen some patients in this Florida dentist office believe that it’s not TMD if it only happens on one side of the jaw. The truth is that TMD doesn’t need to affect both sides of your jaw the same way. Some of the most common symptoms we see in TMD sufferers are:
- Aching in and around your ear: This type of pain is different from the sharp pains of an ear infection. It may also vary, coming as sharp spikes or as a dull throb present throughout the day.
- Discomfort or difficulty while chewing: You may feel as though your jaw gets fatigued easily or starts hurting while you’re chewing. This pain is a good sign of TMD.
- Painful opening and closing of the mouth: Patients typically complain of pain when they’re opening or closing their mouths, along with pain or popping as the jaw slides open.
- Change in how teeth fit together: If your ZTMJ is dislocated, you’ll find that how you hold your teeth together will differ. If you find that your jaw sits differently, you might have TMD.
- Pain in the jaw, face, or neck: TMD can bring about severe pain in the neck, the jaw, or the face, that radiates outwards and can make it hard for the patient to concentrate.
- Locking jaws: Occasionally, patients have had jaws that can’t close properly or are unable to close or open at all. Some patients display trouble opening their mouth as widely as possible also.
- Pain and tenderness while chewing: This is the most common symptom, but by itself doesn’t mean anything. This symptom is also a common side-effect of several other oral disorders.
Diagnosis of TMD
With TMD being such a widespread problem, diagnosis for the disorder should be a standardized procedure, right? Well, the truth is that diagnosis for TMD is not clearly defined. No medical or dental professionals are specifically trained to treat the disorder. Even if they were, the symptoms tend to overlap with other conditions that, unless it’s a blatant presentation, it’s easy to miss. Many medical practitioners misdiagnose TMD as sinus or ear infections, and others write the symptoms off as headaches.
Dental practitioners that want to diagnose you for TMD typically rely on three areas for their diagnosis:
- Health history: If you have a medical history of pain while chewing or regularly experience popping or noises when opening your mouth, you might be a TMD sufferer.
- Physical exam: Typically, if a Florida dentist suspects that you may be suffering from TMD, he or she will perform a physical exam. They will see if you can open or close your mouth thoroughly and if they’re noticing noises from the TM joint as you open and close. These noises, along with the reduced range of motion, will help them to solidify their diagnosis.
- Imaging: After these tests are completed, you may be required to go for an x-ray, CT scan, or MRI to check for the state of the TMJ joint. The imaging results will finalize the diagnosis or let the medical professional know whether they’re on the wrong path.
While you can consult your dentist when getting a diagnosis, it’s more likely that they will refer you to a specialist. TMD is something that your dentist can spot the symptoms of but may not be trained to deal with. Professionals who are the best suited for dealing with TMD have a background in treating pain and musculoskeletal disorders.
Treatment for TMD
TMD isn’t like many other disorders because it doesn’t hang around. Symptoms typically present and then disappear. While these symptoms may occasionally disappear without professional intervention, if left unchecked, it may become chronic. For those who are diagnosed with the disorder, several non-invasive, simple actions can grant relief. Among the things that you can do to prevent getting the symptoms of TMD are:
- Avoid movements that take up your entire range of jaw movement. This precaution may include things like chewing gum or singing.
- Opt for eating softer foods. Fruits like apples and pears are on the border of hard, but you’re okay to consume things like bananas and grapes. Nuts should be avoided.
- Seek out methods to control jaw tension. Medication may help, although it’s best if you consult your doctor before use. Biofeedback mechanisms are similarly useful in some circumstances.
- Use ice or heat packs. This measure depends on which one offers you more relief. Some patients prefer cold on their aches while others opt for heat.
- Avoid grinding or clenching your teeth. For many individuals, trying to do this on your own is difficult since it’s become a habit. Your dentist might be able to help by prescribing a mouthguard.
- Avoid chewing nails or resting on your chin. Biting hard surfaces bring with it a lot of risks for TMD to flare up. Chewing on your nails or even a pencil might lead to shooting pains in your jaw. Resting your chin on a hard surface can also trigger intense short-term pain attacks.
Dentists can also offer some treatments, but these may require some time in the office and a recovery period. Orthodontic treatment or crown replacement may aid in some cases. Adjustment or reshaping the jaw through oral infrastructure might also aid in relieving pain.
Get Your Checkups On Time
At Anderson Dental, we believe in putting your health first. That’s why we pay particular attention to any issues our patients are having during their checkups. If they need to be referred for TMD, we know a few specialists that can help them deal with the disorder. If you’re looking for a Florida dentist that cares for their patients’ well-being, contact our office today and schedule an appointment. We’d be glad to see you!