Diagnosing and Treating TMD/TMJ

by Michael Vold, DDS, JD

Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) is a physical condition caused by the deterioration of your jaw joints. It is also known as TMJ, which is an abbreviation for temporomandibular joint.

There are two temporomandibular joints, one on each side of the face. The temporomandibular name comes from the two bones that create the joint, the temporal bone and the mandible. The temporal bone is part of your skull, and the mandible is your lower jaw bone. A small disc made of cartilage is positioned between the bones to form the joint.

TMD is often painful and can result in congested ears, ringing in the ears, facial swelling, headaches and breathing problems; as well as back, neck and shoulder pain. TMD can also make it difficult to chew, cause odd clicking or popping sounds when the jaw joint is opened or closed, and result in hearing loss. The discomfort can last for short or long periods of time. Both the jaw bone and surrounding areas are usually affected by the disorder, such as muscles, tissues, blood vessels and tendons.

TMD is frequently caused by the misalignment of teeth. This misalignment can occur due to stress, auto accidents, arthritis and many other ailments that affect body joints in general. If the disorder isn’t corrected, the jaw bone will continue to erode and your teeth will begin to loosen. TMD can also lead to tooth loss.

Many times TMD can be successfully treated by a dentist. First, a thorough examination is conducted to determine the reason for the problems you are having. Any areas of pain will be looked at, and your bite will be studied. Muscle and jaw functionality will be evaluated, along with any difficulties you are having opening and closing your mouth. X-rays may be necessary to get a full and detailed view of your jaw joints and teeth.

Sometimes symptoms similar to TMD are caused by gum disease, tooth decay and other health issues. A knowledgeable dentist will be able to diagnose the real source of your pain and discomfort.

In cases involving TMD, various methods can be used to manage the disorder, including orthodontics, bite adjustments, crowns, implant teeth, and bite appliances. Other remedies include heat and cold packs, mild medication to reduce pain and relax the muscles, physical therapy and changes in behavior.

A conservative approach to TMD can be taken, working with patients to correct any habits that may be contributing to the disorder and apply a gradient scale of remedies to resolve the situation, including dietary changes such as eating softer foods. Sometimes several different types of treatment are conducted at the same time. It doesn’t necessarily require oral dental surgery to correct it.

It has been reported that 25% of the population has some type of jaw malfunction. If you are experiencing any type of jaw problem, seek advice from a dentist with TMD training and experience. There is software called Bite FX which demonstrates and explains about TMD. Proper evaluation and treatment can restore your health and prevent future tooth loss.