What Are TMJ and TMD?TMJ stands for, “temporomandibular joint.” This is a joint you have on both sides of your jaw—it’s what allows your jaw to open and close. Your temporomandibular joint is extremely important to your ability to chew, talk, and otherwise live your life. However, sometimes it becomes irritated, inflamed, or tight. Chronic temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems are called, “temporomandibular joint disorder,” or TMD. TMD isn’t just one problem—any problem that causes pain in the TMJ area or affects the function of muscles, nerves, or bones of the jaw joint is considered TMD.
What Causes TMD?The exact causes of a person’s TMD are often difficult to determine since many factors combine to cause TMD. Some common factors include:
- Injury to the jaw, such as a blow or fall.
- Damaged cartilage in the temporomandibular joint due to arthritis.
- The disk that cushions the joint’s movement erodes or moves out of place.
- Bruxism, or grinding and clenching your teeth at night.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of TMD?While the cause of TMJ/TMD might be hard to determine, the signs and symptoms are much easier to identify. People with TMJ/TMD typically experience a variety of common symptoms such as:
- Radiating pain in the neck or face that seems to come from the jaw area.
- Clicking sounds when opening or closing the mouth.
- Inability to open or close your mouth all the way.
- Pain or tenderness in the jaw.
- Difficulty chewing or talking.
- Locking of the jaw joint.
- Pain the ear.
Physical TherapyA common TMD treatment is physical therapy. Sometimes, TMD pain is caused by weak jaw muscles that are being overstrained. By doing exercises to strengthen the jaw joint, that pain can be relieved. Additionally, physical therapy can help you learn how to relax your jaw muscles, preventing grinding and clenching at night and easing the tightness in your jaw joint. It can also help strengthen the muscles that keep your jaw aligned, which aids with the jaw pain caused by a misaligned jaw.
BotoxMost people don’t think they’ll encounter Botox at their dentist’s office, but Botox has treatment capabilities far beyond just relaxing wrinkles! The same properties that allow Botox to help with wrinkles make it an effective treatment for TMJ/TMD. Botox relaxes clenched muscles, helping your jaw move more smoothly. Botox can help you open and close your jaw more easily and reduce your pain.
Custom Splints and Bite GuardsTMJ/TMD splints and bite guards are common treatments for TMJ problems. To get a custom splint or bite guard, the dentist first takes x-rays or a mold of your mouth and teeth. From that, they construct a guard out of clear resin to perfectly fit your mouth. There are a few kinds of mouth guards for TMJ/TMD. Some look kind of like clear retainers—they cover all your upper teeth and help you relax your muscles. Others cover only a few teeth and are meant to prevent your back teeth from touching at all, which stops you from clenching or grinding your teeth.
Oral SurgeryIn extreme situations, you can turn to an oral surgeon to help fix your TMJ problems. There are a few kinds of surgeries that can relieve TMD, including:
- Injections to calm joint inflammation.
- Procedures that remove scar tissue or reshape the jaw bone.
- Insertion of a new, artificial disk to cushion your joint.