TMD – 5 Things Your Dentist Wants You to Know
Although there are no hard numbers, some estimates suggest that there are over 10 million Americans living with temporomandibular disorder (TMD). This is the broad-term that refers to issues with the temporomandibular joint, or jawbone, which is sometimes shortened to just “TMJ.” There are a number of doctors who can help treat temporomandibular disorder, including TMJ specialists, Otolaryngologists (ear, nose, throat doctors or ENTs), and even your general dentist. If your dentist had your attention for just a few minutes, these are the five most-important things he’d tell you about TMD.
- It Has Many Causes
Much of the time, TMD is caused by clenching and grinding of the teeth. However, it can also be the result of misaligned teeth or trauma. In addition, conditions like arthritis or fibromyalgia can have an impact on the TMJ, and sometimes it’s difficult to pinpoint the underlying cause.
- The Pain Won’t Go Away on its Own and it often Gets Worse
In order for TMD pain to dissipate, the underlying cause must be treated. In some cases, the affected individual can muddle through, suffering only minor discomfort. However, once the area is irritated, the inflammation and resulting pain tends to get worse. People who suffer from TMD often have trouble eating, sleeping, talking, and performing normal daily activities.
- It manifests itself in Unusual Ways
The most common symptoms of TMD include jaw pain, popping or clicking noises as the jaw moves, stiffness, or locking of the jaw. Some patients also report headaches or migraines, ear pain, neck pain, and other symptoms. Although these things seem to be unrelated, they all occur due to anatomy, muscle position, attachments, and inflammation.
- Your Dentist Checks for it, But You Need to Report Symptoms
When your dentist performs his exam, he doesn’t just check your teeth. He may ask you to turn your head side-to-side or to open and close your mouth. While he does this, he may also place his hands on your TMJ, so he can feel if the joint is sticking, popping, or behaving in an unusual way. Even still, it’s important to tell your dentist if you have any other symptoms, simply because it can manifest itself in so many ways. Your experiences and symptoms will help him determine what’s occurring, so he can provide you with treatment options.
- In Most Cases, Treatment is Simple
At a very basic level, some cases can be managed with warm compresses, anti-inflammatory medications, like ibuprofen, and relaxation techniques. People who clench or grind at night generally benefit from wearing a bite splint. This is a custom-fitted appliance that’s worn at night and can help eliminate or reduce symptoms, because it stabilizes the jaw and gives the muscles a chance to rest. Although most people find relief from TMD using these methods, sometimes pain persists. In these cases, physical therapy may also be integrated as a mode of treatment. As a final resort, your dentist may also recommend occlusal correction. This involves making adjustments to your bite or using restorative techniques to make the teeth fit together better, which then allows the muscles to relax again.
If you’ve been suffering from the symptoms of TMD, don’t try to muddle through hoping it will go away on its own. Schedule a consultation with your dentist right away. Treatment is often incredibly simple and can get you back to feeling good in no time.