Patients who suffer from chronic pain in the head, neck or facial regions may be suffering from a disorder referred to as TMD, a complex disorder affecting the
temporomandibular joints located in the jaw. TMD-related pains can deter individuals from living a normal life or carrying out simple daily tasks due to severe discomfort. It is not always clear that a patient is suffering from TMD symptoms, causing misdiagnosis of pains for long periods of time. Luckily, there are practical treatments for TMD that can be provided by your dentist or another specialized dental provider, to provide a solution for relief.
What Is The Difference Between TMJ and TMD
TMJ and TMD can sometimes be misused as synonyms for one disorder. TMD, or temporomandibular disorder, is the acronym for the actual condition related to the painful symptoms patients experience. When we refer to TMJ, we are explicitly addressing the temporomandibular joints that are affected by the disorder.
What is TMD?
Misalignment of the TMJ can cause a domino effect of pains and aches that make up the symptoms associated with TMD. Located on both sides of the face, this joint is incredibly complex, sustaining high amounts of constant pressure. Working while you are awake and asleep, the TMJ functions as a hinge controlling the jaw when you eat, breathe, chew, yawn, etc. Without this joint, you wouldn’t be able to move your mouth side-to- side or up and down as you do consistently throughout the day.
However, joints can easily become misaligned due to injury or excessive use, and the TMJ is no exception. When the TMJ becomes unbalanced, multiple parts
of our body can sustain negative impacts, making temporomandibular disorders extremely difficult to diagnose.
What Are Common Symptoms of TMD?
The range of symptoms associated with TMD can often be overwhelming. Individuals who have been experiencing unexplained pain and soreness for years may never realize they are suffering from TMD and that there is a hopeful treatment waiting for them to explore. Possible issues pointing to signs of a TMJ disorder may include:
- Jaw: pain, soreness, popping, difficulty eating/chewing, lockjaw
- Headaches (forehead, migraines, sinus pain, temple pain, scalp)
- Ears: unexplained pain, ringing, popping, buzzing
- Eyes: unexplained pain, sensitivity to light, bloodshot or bulging
- Mouth: uneven position of jaw, pain, teeth that feel loose of sore
- Throat: trouble swallowing, soreness, coughing
- Pain in shoulder and/or neck area
- Finger and/or hand numbness
- Tinnitus in multiple areas
What Are The Causes of TMD?
There are several factors professionals have found that may significantly contribute to the onset of TMD and it’s symptoms:
- High levels of stress, resulting in facial clenching effecting the jaw muscles and teeth
- Habits of grinding teeth while sleeping or anxious
- Sudden movement of the soft fusion located between the socket and ball of the joint
- Onset of arthritis in the TMJ
- Injury to the face or jaw causing sudden misalignment of joints
How Is TMD Treated?
There are a variety of successful treatments available to alleviate paint caused by TMD. The range of your symptoms and the severity of pain will determine what type of professional will need to be involved in your treatment, but often dentists and specialized dental professionals can provide comprehensive procedures to tackle TMJ disorders right from their office.
When a patient’s bite is misaligned (either by setting to the side, far front, or far back) the jaw joints have to work extra hard to perform simple tasks such as chewing and biting. After some time, these joints endue increased pressure from incorrect alignment causing pain to the individual. Orthodontic treatment will not only straighten teeth but can realign your bite, taking pressure off the TMJ and relieving painful systems of soreness. Treatment can be in the form of clear or traditional braces varying on the severity of the bite issue.
Removable Orthodontic Treatment:
Not every patient will want to receive a full set of braces to treat TMD symptoms. With removable orthodontic treatment methods, such as the DNA appliances and ALF appliances, patients can use advanced orthodontic technology to reshape their teeth for a more even bite. These devices are not permanently bonded like brackets and are often worn in the evening and at night.
Full Mouth Reconstruction:
If have you missing or worn down teeth, uneven surfaces for biting and chewing could be placing significant stress on the TMJ. Dental procedures known for helping fix these issues include dental implants, crowns, and bridges, to return your bite to normal functioning.
BOTOX® Cosmetic Therapy:
Though known worldwide as a method of smoothing wrinkles, BOTOX® Cosmetic Therapy has also used as a neuromuscular dentistry method for treating symptoms of TMD. This procedure has shown to produce quick results by relieving chronic pain in the head. BOTOX® reduces the number of fibers in the muscle, resulting in less ability to contract into clenching or grinding motions that can cause stress on the TMJ.
Some providers have also had great success with osteopathic manual techniques, working outside of the body to realign the skull, bones, and muscles in the TMJ region.
How Do I Know If I Have TMD?
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms and are having trouble nailing down a diagnosis, you could be suffering from TMD. To start, you’ll want to make an appointment with your dentist for an evaluation to determine if there are any visible signs that TMD is the cause of your discomfort. Your provider may perform multiple examinations to rule out other causes of pain, such a comprehensive overview of the oral cavity, neck, and head area. TMD can sometimes be challenging to diagnose and may not show up on x-ray exams. It can be easy to get discouraged when under a great deal of unexplained pain and discomfort, but discussing your concerns with a provider is the first step to a diagnosis. If your goal is to lead a pain-free lifestyle, contact your provider immediately for a consolation to see if TMD treatment is right for you.