TMJ is short hand for the temporomandibular joint. Similarly, TMD stands for temporomandibular joint dysfunction. They are typically used interchangeably when describing the pain and compromised movement of the jaw joint as well as the surrounding muscles. As the joint inflames, it can be incredibly painful for patients and often causes lock jaw, jaw clicking, and difficulty chewing or opening the mouth wide.
TMJ (temporomandibular joint) is the body part. TMD (temporomandibular joint dysfunction) is the disorder.
To begin, you’ll have a conversation with your dentist, and discuss the pain that you’re experiencing, as well as other symptoms like jaw “popping” or “clicking,” facial soreness, lockjaw, and any other issues that may be affecting your jaw and your mouth.
Your dentist will provide you with a comprehensive exam, which will typically include jaw x-rays or panoramic x-rays to examine the health and position of your jaws and the other structures of your face. After evaluating all the information, your dentist will determine if TMD is the issue.
After diagnosis, your dentist will provide you with a treatment plan. This could include things like lifestyle changes, as well as treatment with a night guard for teeth grinding or an oral appliance that will help adjust the position of your jaws and encourage healing while you sleep.
In some cases, your jaw issues may be too complex to be treated by a dentist alone. You may need a referral to an oral surgeon or a TMJ/TMD expert for further diagnosis and treatment.
For acute/TMD, medications like muscle relaxers may be prescribed. These medications help you avoid clenching and muscle spasms, and encourage the healing of your temporomandibular joint.
In some cases, medications like corticosteroids may be injected directly into the joint to help relieve inflammation and encourage healing. The specific medication and treatment required to treat TMD will vary depending on the needs of each patient.
A night guard may be prescribed to protect your teeth and help with the effects of teeth grinding (bruxism), which is a common cause of TMD. Night guards look similar to a mouthguard or retainer, and are made of a thick plastic material. They are typically custom-fitted to your top teeth, and are worn at night when you sleep.
The plastic prevents your teeth from contacting each other directly, which helps reduce the damage done by teeth grinding, and also helps prevent grinding. This, in turn, can help reduce the symptoms of TMD.
A poor bite alignment or jaw position is often a contributing factor for TMD, or can even be the primary cause of this dental issue. If your dentist believes that your jaw or tooth position is causing your TMD, they may recommend that you have corrective dental treatment with orthodontics such as braces or Invisalign. Along with lifestyle changes, corrective dental treatment is often enough to completely eliminate TMD.
Surgery is typically a last resort for TMD treatment, and is only recommended in very severe cases if other methods of treatment do not provide results. TMJ/TMD surgery may involve directly operating on the temporomandibular joint itself, or orthognathic (corrective jaw) surgery to help improve the alignment of the bite, jaw muscles, and jaw joints.
TMD pain can extend to the neck, ear, face, upper back and shoulders. It can also cause migraines.
The symptoms of TMD vary quite a bit depending on the patient. You may experience issues like:
If you notice any of these symptoms, we recommend scheduling an appointment with your dentist right away to get help.
TMD and TMJ pain is caused by a variety of different issues:
Because TMD and TMJ pain can be caused by so many different health issues, it’s important to see an experienced dentist when seeking care.
Some cases of mild TMD may go away on their own with lifestyle changes, such as ceasing gum chewing, de-stressing to eliminate teeth clenching, and more. However, if you suffer from the symptoms of TMD for more than a week or two, your condition may be chronic. To learn more about your specific case of TMD, it’s best to seek a qualified, experienced dentist to get the help you need.
There are a few steps you can take to treat TMJ pain on your own. Jaw exercises may help strengthen the jaw muscles and joints, which can help provide you with relief from the effects of TMD.
In addition, applying hot and cold compresses to the area at 10-minute intervals can help with inflammation and control the pain and discomfort of TMD as your jaw heals.
It’s also a good idea to take steps to decrease jaw clenching, such as exercising and de-stressing to reduce the likelihood of nighttime teeth grinding. You may also want to consider ceasing gum chewing, and eating a diet of mostly soft foods to minimize the work your jaw muscles must do while they heal.
You can also use over-the-counter medicines like ibuprofen and acetaminophen to help control pain and inflammation as your jaw heals, and you recover from TMD.
While some cases of TMD are minor and can be resolved with these simple steps and other at-home remedies, you should consider seeking help if you experience serious pain and discomfort, or if your symptoms persist for 1-2 weeks or longer.
Stress can make TMD worse. Clenching of the jaw and bruxism can wear out the jaw and enhance TMJ pain.