Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction

Jaw pain, TMD, and TMJ - what is it?

Jaw pain. We’ve all been there at some point in our life – our jaw locks up as we take a bit of our dinner, you bite down wrong and feel a shooting pain in your face, there’s a pesky click every time you shift your jaw – whatever it may be, it’s actually quite common to develop what’s know as TMD, or temporomandibular dysfunction.

What is TMD? Or TMJ?

You may have heard it both ways, when it comes to the abbreviation, but the two refer to separate terms. TMJ refers to the actual temporomandibular joint, which connects your jawbone to your skull, while TMD stands for temporomandibular dysfunction, but is used to describe any malfunction of the TMJ. The two terms are used rather interchangeably when it concerns jaw pain, even if the medical terminology classifies them as distinctly unique entities.

When it comes to TMJs, humans have two of them: one for each of the joints on either side of the face that connects the two points of contact between the jawbone and skull. These joints may not be as commonly associated with joint-centric injuries or diseases as other joints in the body are, but it can be just as susceptible to arthritis, injury, genetically-inherited disease, and overuse. However, just like other joints in the body, jaw pain and TMD can be managed, even if it can’t be cured.

How Do I Know if I Have TMD?

11-12 million adults have pain in the TMJ region, and as it turns out, women are 2x as as likely to develop TMD than men, particularly women between 35-44 years old.

So, how do you know if you have fleeting jaw pain or TMD?

Well, firstly, there are three classes of TMDs that you can reference to see if your pain fits into a TMD category:

  • Disorders of the joints, including disc disorders (degenerative joint disease)
  • Disorders of the muscles in the jaw (myofascial pain)
  • Headaches associated with a TMD

If your jaw pain fits into any of these three classes, you may want to get it checked out by a dental or orthopaedic specialist.

Other symptoms of TMD are:

  • Pain or tenderness of the jaw, especially around the TMJs
  • Earaches or an aching pain in and around your ear
  • Difficulty or pain while chewing
  • Aching facial pain
  • Locking of the TMJs
  • Decreased jaw mobility
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Neck or shoulder pain
  • Clicking, popping, or grating sounds at the TMJs
  • Facial fatigue
  • Tinnitus
  • Change in position of the teeth or jaw
  • Toothaches

Diagnosing TMD is not usually an invasive procedure. Dental or Orthopaedic specialists will take you through a series of movements and exercised to gauge the mobility of your jaw and the severity of the TMD – if your dentist is trained to recognize TMD, they may even do it during a regularly scheduled dental checkup. If necessary, additional diagnosis methods such as X-Rays, CBCT Scans, or MRI Scans may be conducted to assess further damage, especially if the TMD is the result of an injury.

What Causes TMD?

Speaking of, what does cause TMD? As mentioned before, the temporomandibular joints are susceptible to genetically-inherited diseases and other conditions, such as arthritis, but sometimes, there is no cause that can be pinpointed as the origin of dysfunction. This goes case-by-case, however, and there has been evidence supported by research that potential explanations could include:

  • Bruxism (teeth grinding/clenching)
  • Dislocation of the disc between the ball and socket joint
  • Arthritis in the TMJ
  • Stress/Behavioral Reasons
  • Acute trauma

A recent study by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research identified clinical, psychological, sensory, genetic, and nervous system factors that may put a person at higher risk of developing chronic TMD.

How is TMD Treated?

If TMD is like other forms are arthritis, that means that the condition isn’t curable. It is, however, manageable. Most TMDs go away on their own, and there have been less studies conducted on treatments which means less forms of treatment available to the public, but if the pain persists and interferes with daily life, after consulting with a professional, general treatments may include:

  • Heat and Cold therapy
  • Change in diet to soft foods for mandibular rest
  • NSAIDS and other over the counter pain meds
  • Nightguards/mouthpieces
  • Physical Therapy
  • Conscious change in jaw habits, like:
    • Jaw clenching
    • Gum chewing
    • Avoiding jaw movement for yawns
    • Keeping pressure off the jaw
    • Practicing good posture

Less conventional, but still non-invasive action may also be suggested. Acupuncture, meditation and relaxation techniques, and transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS) have often been accepted as treatments for TMD, usually used in conjunction with other methods.

More advanced treatment methods include prescription muscle relaxers, anti-anxiety medication, prescription pain relievers, and antidepressants, as they each focus on the inflammation of the muscles surrounding the joint and behavioral aspects that may be leading to jaw pain.

Doctors recommend staying away from any permanent changes to the jaw joint, teeth, or bite without going through all potential avenues of conventional, non-invasive treatment first, but if the TMD is due to an underlying issue that can be fixed, sometimes corrective dental treatments can be utilized to treat jaw pain.

What About Surgery?

As stated before, most of the times, pain will go away on its own. Surgery is very rare in TMD cases, so unless its a severe case, no surgery is required or suggested – in fact, it’s discouraged. If you’ve surpassed all conventional treatments and the pain is still unmanageable or there are additional issues arising, such as advanced joint deterioration, lingering injury trauma, tumor formation, or bone issues, you may be prescribed for surgical treatments, which may include:

  • Arthrocentesis
  • Arthroscopy
  • Open-Joint Surgery

Need help managing your joint pain? If you or someone you love suffers from TMD in the Louisville, Kentucky-area, physician Dr. Stacie Grossfeld at Orthopaedic Specialists PLLC can help. Orthopaedic Specialists PLLC is accepting new patients, and same day appointments are available. For additional information or to schedule an appointment, please contact Orthopaedic Specialists PLLC today at 502-212-2663.