Temporomandibular Joint Disorders

The temporomandibular joint connects the lower jaw with the skull. It is the only mobile joint on the head, and it is responsible for the most important functions such as chewing, swallowing and talking. Each person has two temporomandibular joints.

Temporomandibular disorders are very common among people. This is a group of conditions that affect the joint and can be caused by different factors. The thing about TMD’s is that the exact reason behind the disorder is very hard to be determined. In most cases, several causes are involved and should be examined. These disorders affect the joint, muscles and the jaw. Different people present different symptoms, and treatment is usually required.

Face portrait of woman with toothy pain. Isolated

Causes of TMD

The exact reason that causes Temporomandibular Disorders is still not determined. Doctors believe that it is actually a group of different factors that influence the health of the joint. These causes can have a direct effect on the joint and its parts, or originate from the jaw and muscles that surround it.

Different types of injuries that happen in the area of the joint, jaw and temples are associated with TMD. In other words, trauma and strong forces that occur in the head and neck region are very likely to cause these disorders. A strong blow is the most common reason determined so far.

If the cartilage of the joint is affected by arthritis that will cause TMD. Other types of arthritis such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis also play a big role in the diagnostic process.

Long-term teeth grinding and jaw clenching does lead to changes in the joint. These people wake up in the morning with severe pain in that area, and with time the symptoms progress significantly. If the bruxism is mild and in the beginner stages, then there might not be any damage to the joint.

There are several other diseases that affect the connective tissue and might lead to TMD. Genetics also has a part in the history of the disease. Anyways, these are only risk factors that increase the chances of getting a TMD. So far, there aren’t any specific information on what causes this condition.

Symptoms of TMD

The first symptom that patients notice is a pain. It is located in the area of the joint. People have a hard time opening their mouth, and they feel sharp pain each time they do. The unpleasant feeling can irradiate towards the temples, ears, neck, and back of the skull. That is why many people confuse TMD with other diseases and conditions. The pain and tenderness can be present in one of the joints or in both. Chewing, yawning, speaking and swallowing can be very hard and painful.

Also, a large portion of patients experience pain in the neck and chest area, earaches, headaches, and toothache. When they open and close their mouth, the joint might produce sounds that weren’t present before. Popping and clicking do happen very often, and in some cases are accompanied by pain. Another very unpleasant thing that can happen is locking of the joint. The patient’s mouth stays locked in a certain position, and they are not able to move it from there. It causes panic, and it is very uncomfortable.

Treatment of TMD

A lot of people experience TMD throughout their life. For most of them is just temporary, as a result of bruxism and stress. Once this bad habit disappears, the pain also goes away. Temporomandibular disorders are usually not a serious problem. But there are patients that are seriously affected by the condition, and that prevents them from having a normal life.

In the majority of cases, TMD can be treated non-surgically. Certain lifestyle changes have to be done. If the disorder is caused by stress and grinding, there are many stress-relief methods that can be helpful. Bruxism is treated usually with mouth guards and mouth splints.

You might need to implement a lot of soft food in your diet. Protect your joint by avoiding chewing gums, and other foods that require a lot of chewing. Massage is a proven method that relaxes the muscles and helps with the function.

Only a small number of people are sent to an oral or maxillofacial surgeon for a further consultation. Surgical procedures are only recommended after the patient has tried all of the other options.