In addition to caring for your teeth, dentists monitor your jaw or TMJ. Your TMJ is the temporomandibular joint. It connects your jaw to your skull. Problems with the TMJ are called temporomandibular disorders (TMD). TMD are serious problems, so it’s important to take care of this joint.
Possible causes of TMD include arthritis, poor posture, trauma, teeth grinding, and teeth clenching.
The symptoms of TMD are not limited to pain and stiffness in the jaw. Patients also might experience pain in their neck and shoulders or clicking sounds when opening and closing their jaw. Ear pain is very common with TMD. Sometimes TMD causes headaches or tinnitus (ringing in the ears). In some cases, jaws lock. When a person is unable to open or close their mouth, TMD requires emergency treatment, but most of the time TMJ problems can be managed without medical treatment.
The TMJ Association encourages patients with TMD to remember: less is best. Using the TMJ joint less often, and with less pressure, helps alleviate problems. If teeth clenching or grinding is causing TMD, try using relaxation and stress reduction techniques. Gently massage the muscles, breathe deeply, or practice meditation. Eat soft foods and avoid chewing gum. Don’t rest your chin on your hand or hold a phone between your head and shoulder. Moist heat reduces pain, and ice reduces swelling. Over the counter painkillers and anti-inflammatories offer short-term relief. If these remedies don’t work, schedule a dentist appointment.
The dentist will do a thorough examination to determine the best course of action. Dentists can teach patients stretching techniques and jaw exercises. They may install a splint or suggest a mouth guard. It can be difficult to determine the cause of TMD, so a dentist may refer you to a specialist for further testing. It is extremely rare for TMD to require surgical treatment.
TMD has a serious impact on your quality of life. It’s important to take action. Don’t live in pain. Talk to your dentist and get the problem resolved!