What Is TMD?

Here at Accent Smile Center, we have a number of patients who come in complaining of pain or discomfort around the jaw area. One of the most common causes for this is temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD. The is a broad term that we use to describe the jaw pain and dysfunction that can happen when something is structurally off with the muscles and joints of the jaw, which are complex and full of nerve endings. For this reason, when something goes wrong, it can result in symptoms that range from mild to acute. If you’re experiencing some of these symptoms, you may be wondering what exactly TMD is, and if there are any treatments available for it. We’ll take a closer look at these questions below, so keep reading for more information! 

What is TMJ? Is it the same thing as TMD?

Although it’s not uncommon to see these two abbreviations used interchangeably, they’re not the same thing. TMJ actually stands for temporomandibular joint, which is the hinge points that connects our jaw bones to our head. Located directly in front of the ears, this joint gives us the ability to speak and chew our food. The TMJ is also incredibly mobile. In fact, it rotates, glides, and acts as a powerful hinge all at once! 

This TMJ is surrounded by a number of complex protectors like tendons, muscles, and joint pads. Most of the time, these components work well together, but if they are thrown “off course,” it can lead to pain, popping, and inflammation. This is where TMD comes into play. This disorder can be especially frustrating when you consider that the TMJ is one of the joints our bodies use most often! For that very reason, the range of symptoms associated with TMD is wide and varied. 

What Is TMD?

The signs and symptoms of TMD

Every case of TMD is different. For some, it will affect only one side of the face, while others may have problems with both sides. Some people will experience mild symptoms that pop up sporadically, but others may have serious symptoms that take years to resolve. Some of the most common signs of TMD tend to be:

  • pain or tenderness in the face, jaw joint, neck, or shoulders
  • pain in or around the ear when chewing or speaking
  • difficulty opening the mouth wide
  • jaws that get stuck or locked in an open- or closed-mouth position
  • popping or other noise in the jaw joint when you open or close your mouth
  • popping or other noise in the jaw when chewing
  • a “tired” feeling in the face
  • difficulty chewing
  • feeling as though your upper and lower teeth don’t fit together properly
  • swelling on the side of your face
  • ringing or stuffy ears
  • migraines or headaches

The symptoms experienced with TMD can often be similar to other common dental issues, like tooth decay and gum disease, as well as medical conditions such as arthritis. In order to receive a proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment, you should schedule an examination with an experienced dental professional like Dr. Gatgens

What causes TMD?

TMD symptoms can come from a problem with the muscles of your jaw, or with the parts of the joint itself. An injury to your jaw, the joint, or the muscles of your head and neck is an obvious cause of TMD, but other factors can contribute as well, including: 

  • grinding or clenching your teeth, as this puts extra pressure on the joint
  • movement of the soft cushion or disc between the ball and socket of the joint
  • arthritis in the TMJ
  • stress, which can tighten your facial and jaw muscles, or cause you to clench the teeth

An untreated problem with your bite or a misaligned jaw can also put undue stress on the sensitive components of the TMJ. This may result in chronic shooting pain that is felt throughout the face, neck, shoulders, back, and arms.

What Is TMD?

How is TMD diagnosed?

At Accent Smile Center, we use innovative techniques and state-of-the-art technology to pinpoint the source of TMD. To present you with an accurate diagnosis of TMD, Dr. Gatgens can use multiple methods like measuring aspects of the teeth and jaw, determining the jaw’s proper resting position, and mapping the movement of the jaw during speaking and eating. Once we’ve found the source of your TMD and given you a  proper diagnosis, we’ll be able to create a customized treatment plan.

What treatment options are available for TMD?

Fortunately, many people with TMD have relatively mild symptoms that only appear every once in a while. These often improve on their own within a few weeks or months. During that time, there are several ways to ease symptoms, including:

  • eating soft foods
  • applying ice or moist heat
  • avoiding extreme jaw movements like wide yawning
  • taking smaller bites of your food
  • alternating chewing between both sides of your mouth
  • exploring stress-relief techniques

Whenever possible, we prefer conservative and reversible treatments for TMD. These are non-invasive and generally won’t produce any permanent changes in the structure or position of the jaw or teeth. Even if TMD symptoms become more persistent, most patients still won’t need more aggressive treatment.

One example of this kind of conservative treatment is night guards, or occlusal guards. These custom-made mouthguards are worn over the teeth to protect them against damage caused by clenching or grinding. It works by creating a physical barrier between your upper and lower teeth so that you bite against the guard rather than wearing down your teeth, which can cause TMD symptoms. 

For more complex or severe cases of TMD, missing teeth may need to be replaced. We can then use crowns and bridges to balance the biting surfaces of the teeth. If you require some sort of bite correction to minimize or eliminate your TMD symptoms,  orthodontic treatment like Six Month Smiles or Clear Correct may be recommended. 

If left untreated, TMD can lead to inflammation, swelling, and chronic pain. It can also contribute to progressive dental problems, such as premature tooth wear and periodontal disease. If you’ve been experiencing symptoms of TMD, we encourage you to get in touch with an experienced dentist like Dr. Gatgens to schedule a thorough examination.

Diagnosing and treating TMD with Accent Smile Center

Whether you’ve been struggling with symptoms of TMD yourself, suspect it in a loved one, or would just like to learn more about TMD diagnosis and treatment, get in touch with us today. When it comes to providing first-class dental care, Accent Smile Center can’t be beat!