Do you suffer from recurring headaches? Do your jaws click, grind, or pop? Are you frustrated by undiagnosed chronic pain? If your answer to any of these questions was "yes", you may have a TMJ disorder.
The terms and abbreviations used to describe this condition can be confusing. Here are the definitions that you need to know:
- TMJ is not actually a condition; it is an acronym for temporomandibular joint, which is the jaw joint. Many people use this term for problems associated with the joint.
- TMD is an acronym for temporomandibular disorder.
- TMJD is an acronym temporomandibular joint disorder. (It is the same as TMD)
- MFP is an acronym for myofascial pain, which is a common type of TMD.
What causes TMD?
There is a disc in the middle of each TMJ, between the ball and the socket. It provides lubrication and cushioning, allowing smooth movement. Anything that prevents the disc, bones, ligaments, and muscles from functioning properly can result in TMD.
Some of the most common causes include:
- Injured jaw
- Dislocated jaw
- Orthodontic problems
- Bruxism (clenching and grinding of teeth)
Diagnosis and treatment
The critical first step is accurately diagnosing the problem. During your regular dental exam, your doctor will check for signs of TMD. These include limited jaw movement, and pain, tenderness, or noise in the joint.
There are several methods of therapy. Although you may have heard of surgeries being performed to treat this condition, that is only necessary in rare cases. TMD is treated with a "less is best" approach, beginning with the most conservative options.
For many patients, minor lifestyle changes bring significant relief. Your dentist may recommend:
- Avoid eating hard or chewy foods.
- Don't chew gum or bite your fingernails.
- Try heat packs to ease the pain.
- Practice controlling the tension in your jaws and facial muscles.
- Try not to clench or grind your teeth.
- Use special exercises to strengthen and relax the muscles in your jaws.
- Wear a night guard if you grind your teeth during sleep.
For some patients, dental treatment is the answer. Bite reconstruction, replacing missing teeth, or orthodontic treatment may be recommended.