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The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is in use more than any other joint in the whole body, which makes it an easy target for health issues. When these problems cause chronic pain and affect the overall function of the jaw, they are collectively known as temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD).
Complications related to the jaw joint head can significantly influence your dental health and your overall health.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, or TMD, occurs when your jaw and the muscles that control it don’t work properly, causing severe pain and discomfort. TMD can affect kids, teens, and adults, but the exact cause of TMD is often challenging to determine. We do know that jaw issues are closely connected to oral health and genetics, and if left untreated, can lead to dental damage and neck and back problems.
The symptoms of TMD are felt in the head, neck, and upper back. The TMJ, although centralized in the jaw, is surrounded by connective tendons and muscles, many of which go around the skull and into the neck. When TMD is bad enough, symptoms can spread to other areas of the body.
TMD patients often experience problems when they try to open their mouths wide, and it is not uncommon for the jaw to become stuck in an open or closed position. Additional symptoms may include a clicking or popping sound when you bite, trouble chewing, and facial swelling. If left untreated, this jaw tension can cause clenching, which results in damaged teeth, crowns, and bridges.
The most common issue associated with TMD is a dull pain in the jaw that comes and goes, but it is also tied to neck and back problems, sleep disorders, and chronic stress. These issues interfere with daily life and can impact your ability to perform normal activities comfortably. In some mild cases, the TMD symptoms will ease up with simple self-care practices, but if symptoms are persistent, professional treatment is likely the best option.
There are a variety of methods used to treat TMD, and they fall into two areas:
Non-Surgical: Minimally invasive options include anti-inflammatory medications, steroid application, oral appliances, and physical therapy. The focus of these techniques is reducing discomfort while also re-training the muscles to function correctly. If the muscles, tendons, and the joint can be soothed and corrected, then patients can recover their jaw function.
Surgical: If non-surgical procedures are not sufficient, surgery may be the best solution. The oral surgeon can perform this treatment in a few ways. Debris and damaged tissue can be removed, restoring full range of motion; or, the connective tissues can be adjusted and altered, and additional material added to strengthen the area.
Since TMD affects oral health and your day-to-day comfort, professional treatment is recommended to restore your long-term health. A dental professional who specializes in oral maxillofacial procedures can evaluate your symptoms and determine whether they are due to TMJ or some other cause, and what treatment would be most beneficial.