What Causes TMD?
We don’t always know what causes temporomandibular disorder (TMD). Dentists believe symptoms arise from problems with the muscles of your jaw or with the parts of the joint itself.
Injury to your jaw, the joint, or the muscles of your head and neck — like from a heavy blow or whiplash — can lead to TMD. Other causes may include:
What Are the Symptoms?
TMD often causes severe pain and discomfort. It can be temporary or last many years. It might affect one or both sides of your face.
Common symptoms include:
- Pain or tenderness in your face, jaw joint area, neck and shoulders, and in or around the ear when you chew, speak, or open your mouth wide
- Problems when you try to open your mouth wide
- Jaws that get “stuck” or “lock” in the open- or closed-mouth position
- Clicking, popping, or grating sounds in the jaw joint when you open or close your mouth or chew. This may or may not be painful.
- A tired feeling in your face
- Trouble chewing or a sudden uncomfortable bite — as if the upper and lower teeth are not fitting together properly
- Swelling on the side of your face
You may also have toothaches, headaches, neck aches, dizziness, earaches, hearing problems, upper shoulder pain, and ringing in the ears (tinnitus).
How Is TMD Diagnosed?
Many other conditions cause similar symptoms — like tooth decay, sinus problems, arthritis, or gum disease. To figure out what’s causing yours, the dentist will ask about your health history and conduct an exam.
They’ll check your jaw joints for pain or tenderness and listen for clicks, pops, or grating sounds when you move them. They will also make sure your jaw works like it should and doesn’t lock when you open or close your mouth.
Your dentist may take full face X-rays so they can view your jaws, temporomandibular joints, and teeth to rule out other problems.
You may get referred to an oral surgeon (also called an oral and maxillofacial surgeon) for further care and treatment. This doctor specializes in surgery in and around the entire face, mouth, and jaw area. You may also see an orthodontist to ensure your teeth, muscles, and joints work as they should.
Home Treatments for TMD
There are things you can do on your own to help relieve TMD symptoms. Your doctor may suggest you try some of these remedies together.
Take over-the-counter medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like naproxen or ibuprofen, can relieve muscle pain and swelling.
Use moist heat or cold packs. Apply an ice pack to the side of your face and temple area for about 10 minutes. Do a few simple jaw stretches (if your dentist or physical therapist OKs them). When you’re done, hold a warm towel or washcloth to the side of your face for about 5 minutes. Perform this routine a few times each day.
Eat soft foods. Add yogurt, mashed potatoes, cottage cheese, soup, scrambled eggs, fish, cooked fruits and vegetables, beans, and grains to your menu. Cut foods into small pieces so you chew less. Skip hard, crunchy foods (like pretzels and raw carrots), chewy foods (like caramels and taffy), and thick or large bites that require you to open wide.
Talk to your dentist about these tried-and-true treatments for TMD:
Medications. Your dentist can prescribe higher doses of NSAIDs if you need them for pain and swelling. They might suggest a muscle relaxer to relax your jaw if you grind or clench your teeth.
A splint or night guard. These plastic mouthpieces fit over your upper or lower teeth so they don’t touch. They lessen the effects of clenching or grinding and correct your bite by putting your teeth in a more correct position. What’s the difference between them? You wear night guards while you sleep. You use a splint all the time. Your dentist will tell you which type you need.
If the treatments listed above don’t help, your dentist may suggest one or more of the following:
Ultrasound. Deep heat applied to the joint can relieve soreness or improve mobility.
Trigger-point injections. Pain medication or anaesthesia is injected into tender facial muscles called “trigger points” to give relief.
Radio wave therapy. Radio waves stimulate the joint, which increases blood flow and eases pain.
Low-level laser therapy. This lowers pain and inflammation and helps you move your neck more freely and open your mouth wider.
Surgery for TMD
If other treatments can’t help you, surgery is an option. Once it’s done, it can’t be undone, so be sure to have a good discussion with your dentist about this prior to booking.
There are three types of surgery for TMD. The type you need depends on the problem.
Arthrocentesis is used if you have no major history of TMJ but your jaws are locked. You’ll be given general anaesthesia, then the dentist will insert needles into the joint and wash it out. They may use a special tool to get rid of damaged tissue or dislodge a disc stuck in the joint, or to unstick the joint itself.
Arthroscopy is surgery done with an arthroscope. This special tool has a lens and a light on it. It lets your doctor see inside your joint. You’ll get general anaesthesia, then the doctor will make a small cut in front of your ear and insert the tool. It’ll be hooked up to a video screen, so they can examine your joint and the area around it. They may remove inflamed tissue or realign the disc or joint. This type of surgery, known as minimally invasive, leaves a smaller scar, has fewer complications, and requires a shorter recovery time than a major operation.
- The bony structures in your jaw joint are wearing down
- You have tumours in or around the joint
- Your joint is scarred or full of bone chips
You’ll get general anaesthesia, then the doctor will open up the entire area around the joint so they can get a full view and better access. You’ll need longer to heal after open-joint surgery, and there is a greater chance of scarring and nerve injury.