Problems with the jaw area can result in temporomandibular disorders. This condition, or “TMD” for short, is often mistakenly referred to as “TMJ.” Problems can affect the jaw, jaw joint or surrounding facial muscles. These parts of the face are responsible for the chewing function and movement of the mouth.
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a hinge that connects the lower portion of the jaw (mandible) to the temporal bone of the skull. This is right in front of the ear on both sides of the head. These joints are designed to move easily to allow for chewing, talking and yawning.
Medical personnel aren’t exactly sure what causes these disorders but some dentists believe that symptoms can develop from problems associated with jaw muscles or parts of the joint itself. Certain injuries such as those stemming from car accidents (whiplash) and blows to the face may also play a role. These kinds of injuries can affect the jaw, temporomandibular joint or head and neck muscles.TMD can also be caused by: grinding or repeatedly clenching the teeth, which puts pressure on the joint; osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis in the joint; and stress that causes facial or jaw muscles to repeatedly tighten.
People with TMD can suffer for a relatively short period of time or over longer periods. The pain can be severe at times. According with recent studies more women than men develop TMD, and most are between 20 and 40.
There are many signs and symptoms associated with TMD. They include:
- Pain in the face
- Neck and shoulders
- Inability to open the mouth wide
- Jaws that lock up while open or closed
- Clicking or popping sounds in the jaw when opening or closing the mouth while talking, eating or performing other functions
- Facial swelling
- Hearing problems
- A tired or sluggish feeling in the face
- Difficulty chewing.
Most people diagnosed with TMD are started out with self-care techniques to treat the condition. These can include:
- Heat and cold therapy
- Eating soft foods
- Wearing a splint or guard
- Avoiding strong jaw movements
- Relaxation techniques
- Corrective dentistry if there is a related problem.
Possible Treatment Options
Medications may include over-the-counter analgesics, narcotic painkillers, muscle relaxers and antidepressants. When these don’t work, doctors may suggest that patients try injections in the trigger points, radio wave or ultrasound therapy or treatment with a TENS unit. This stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. Surgery may be suggested if patients don’t respond to less invasive treatments.