The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint that connects your temporal bone (skull) to your mandible (lower jaw). In simple terms, your TMJ is the joint responsible for opening and closing your mouth, as well as for biting and chewing. Every person has two joints composed of a capsule, articular disc, ligaments, and nerves. Both joints are categorized as ginglymoarthrodial, with “ginglymus” meaning “hinging” and arthrodial meaning “sliding”.
When problems occur with the temporomandibular joint, they are often referred to as temporomandibular joint dysfunction or temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). TMD is a collective term that includes any problem affecting the TMJ or its surrounding muscles, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, and other nearby tissues.
Did You Know?
The temporomandibular joint is unique from any other joint in the body because it is a bilateral joint that functions as a single unit. This means that you have two joints, one on either side of your face, but they must function in perfect unison.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Do I have TMD?
You may have TMD if you are experiencing some or all of the following TMD symptoms:
- Pain around the jaw joint
- Pain while chewing or biting
- Generalized facial ache
- Chronic headaches
- Pain around the temples
- Ear pain or tinnitus
- Blurred vision
- Jaw “locks up” and prevents easy motion
- Muscle spasms
- Clicking or popping noises in the jaw
- Inability to chew or speak properly
- Shoulder or neck pain
However, only a dentist can accurately diagnose whether or not your symptoms are caused by TMD or other dental issues. To find out whether you have TMD, schedule a consultation with one of our dentists at our Ferndale Bethesda Family Dentistry office in Bethesda.
What causes TMD?
TMD can be caused by a number of different factors including: the erosion or movement of the disk, cartilage damage (arthritis), or possible damage to the joint from trauma. Unfortunately, however, most cases of TMD do not have an identifiable cause.
Because most cases do not have an identifiable cause, it makes it tough to know how to specifically avoid TMD. However, there are certain risk factors that have been associated with TMD. For example, you may be at a higher risk for developing TMD if you have any type of arthritis, a past jaw injury, grind or clench your teeth, or have certain connective tissue diseases.
How is TMD diagnosed?
To diagnose TMD, our dentists will first discuss your symptoms and perform an examination. This examination will consist of evaluating your teeth and bite for signs of inflammation. Our dentists may also listen for any clicking or popping noises while also testing your jaw’s range of motion.
To help our dentists make an accurate diagnosis, you will want to consider the following things before your appointment:
- How long have you been experiencing symptoms?
- Are you stressed more than normal?
- Are you experiencing headaches, toothaches, or neck aches?
- Are your symptoms constant or do they come and go?
- Can you identify any triggers for your pain?
Dental x-rays may be taken to get a better look at the joint. In some cases additional diagnostic image, such as a CT scan or MRI, may be required. In rare cases, you may be referred to a medical doctor to have a TMJ arthroscopy. During a TMJ arthroscopy, a camera attached to a scope is inserted into the jaw joint. Once inside the joint, images are taken to diagnose the exact cause of TMD.
How is TMD treated at Bethesda Family Dentistry?
Bethesda Family Dentistry treats each case of TMD according to the individual case. As such, your exact treatment can vary depending on a number of factors such as your symptoms, the severity, and whether or not an identifiable cause is present. Some possible treatment options include:
- Medications: our dentists may recommend taking over the counter pain medications to reduce inflammation in the jaw joint. In more severe cases, stronger pain medications, muscle relaxants, and some types of tricyclic antidepressants may be prescribed for additional pain management.
- Oral Appliances: our dentists can custom-fabricate an oral appliance similar to a mouth guard that fits over your teeth and adjusts the position of your bite, reducing pressure on the joint. Oral appliances are also helpful for those who grind or clench their teeth in their sleep. The appliance prevents this from happening, which also reduces stress on the joint and allows it to relax.
- Physical Therapy: our dentists may refer you to a physical therapist or give you certain exercises or stretches to strengthen the surrounding soft tissues, providing additional support.
- Temporary Diet Modifications: our dentists may recommend temporarily refraining from eating hard or chewy foods during TMD “flare ups”. Eating softer foods reduces the strain on the jaw joint and lets it relax.
- Behavior Modifications: our dentists may recommend against certain behaviors such as nail biting or gum chewing. Reducing these behaviors will help prevent additional strain on the jaw joint and reduce symptoms.
- Hot or Cold Therapy: our dentists may recommend heat or ice packs to reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Hot and cold therapy generally consists of alternating heat and ice for designated periods of time to reduce muscle tension.
Can TMD be cured?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for TMD. However, its symptoms can be managed through the aforementioned treatments. If you are diagnosed with TMD, it is recommended that you follow any treatment instructions and schedule regular dental checkups at Bethesda Family Dentistry so that our dentists can evaluate you and adjust your treatment as needed. Doing so with ensure that your symptoms are properly managed and will decrease the likelihood of developing more severe symptoms.
Although TMD cannot be cured, the prognosis for those with TMD is usually good. Most people are able to decrease or eliminate their symptoms with the proper treatment. It may take some time to determine what the perfect treatment is, especially if the cause is unknown. In some cases, our dentists may also refer you to other specialists to help treat your TMD. When long-term complications occur, they are usually chronic headaches or facial pain.
For a qualified, experienced, and caring approach to treating TMJ pain, schedule a consultation with one of our dentists at our Ferndale Bethesda Family Dentistry office in Bethesda.