Understanding Jaw Discomfort

Experiencing discomfort in your jaw or its vicinity? Do you encounter jaw locking? Are clicks or pops accompanied by pain? Frequent headaches, resembling migraines, become a hindrance? If these scenarios resonate, it’s worth discussing temporomandibular disorders (TMDs) with your dentist.

The temporomandibular joints (TMJs) facilitate mouth opening, closure, and lateral or frontal jaw movements. “Yes you have TMJ”, everyone has two TMJs. Disorders of the TMJs are part of TMD. This intricate TMJs system involves muscles, connective tissues, and the joints themselves, which can develop various issues due to their complexity. Two joints need to function in harmony.

Temporomandibular disorders (TMDs) encompass various conditions that affect the temporomandibular joint and the muscles responsible for jaw movement. Here are some common TMD disorders:

  1. Myofascial Pain: This involves discomfort or pain in the muscles responsible for jaw movement. It often results from muscle tension, clenching, or grinding.
  2. Internal Derangement: This refers to structural problems within the joint itself, such as a dislocated disc or improper alignment of the joint components.
  3. Osteoarthritis: A degenerative joint condition that leads to the breakdown of the cartilage within the temporomandibular joint.
  4. Rheumatoid Arthritis: An autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation in the joints, including the temporomandibular joint.
  5. Bruxism: Also known as teeth grinding or clenching, bruxism can contribute to TMD by putting excessive pressure on the jaw joint and muscles.
  6. Joint Disorders: These include conditions like ankylosis, where the joint becomes immobile due to fusion of the bones.
  7. Dislocated Jaw: This occurs when the jaw joint becomes displaced from its normal position.
  8. TMJ Disc Displacement: The disc that cushions the joint can move out of place, causing pain and limited jaw movement.
  9. Muscle Spasm: Spasms in the muscles of the jaw can lead to discomfort and restricted movement.
  10. Degenerative Joint Disease: A chronic condition that causes gradual deterioration of the joint, leading to pain and limited function.

It’s important to note that TMDs can have overlapping symptoms, and a thorough examination by a qualified healthcare professional is necessary to accurately diagnose the specific disorder and recommend appropriate treatment.

Symptoms can be intermittent or persistent, and they might resolve on their own or require intervention. Often TMD is episodic, and patients may go for years without any symptoms but have occasional flare-ups. Interesting 80% of patients that seek care for TMD are female.

TMD treatment can be challenging, so treatment primarily focuses on alleviating symptoms. You can consider:

  • Opting for softer foods.
  • Restricting extensive jaw movements.
  • Avoiding gum chewing or hard biting.
  • Applying warm, moist compresses. Warm moist heat works better than dry heat.
  • Conversely, some patients find cold, and ice can give good pain relief especially if inflammation is involved.

If discomfort persists, your dentist may recommend:

  • The self-management steps listed above.
  • Medications like muscle relaxants, pain relievers, anti-anxiety drugs, or anti-inflammatories.
  • Using a nightguard or bite plate to curb sleep-related teeth clenching or grinding.
  • Trigger point injections for myofascial pain.
  • Botulinum toxin (BOTOX®)

In some instances, your dentist might refer you to a specialist proficient in addressing TMD related discomfort. Prior to permanent adjustments, such as altering your bite or full mouth restorations, ensure thorough evaluation. Scrutinize the qualifications, educational background, and success rates of the healthcare providers involved. Survey all treatment possibilities and potential outcomes before making lasting changes to your teeth and occlusion (bite).

In conclusion, given the intricate nature of the TMJs, pinpointing the cause of pain in and around it can be intricate. Treatment primarily centers on easing distressing symptoms. Your dentist can offer techniques to mitigate TMD-related discomfort or, if warranted, recommend specialists for alternative treatment avenues.