Temporomandibular Disorder

Millions of Americans suffer from chronic facial and neck pain as well as severe, recurring headaches. In some cases, this pain is due to Temporomandibular Disorder, also known as TMD.

Your temporomandibular joints, or TMJs, connect your lower jawbone to your skull. These joints get a lot of use throughout the day as you speak, chew, swallow, and yawn. Pain in and around these joints can be unpleasant and may even restrict movement.

Symptoms of TMD include:

  • Pain in the jaw area
  • Pain, ringing, or stuffiness in the ears
  • Frequent headaches or neck aches
  • Clicking or popping sound when the jaw moves
  • Muscle spasms in the jaw area
  • A change in the alignment of top and bottom teeth
  • Locked jaw or limited opening of the mouth

If you notice that you are experiencing any of these symptoms, let your doctor know at your next appointment. Your doctor can help determine if you have TMD and create a customized treatment plan to help relieve your symptoms.

Daily Care of TMJ/TMD Disorders

Success in treatment for Temporomandibular disorders is dependent on your daily control of the problem.   The primary responsibility for controlling the condition is in your hands.  The following suggestions are to be followed each day unless specified by the doctor.  Some additional treatment from the doctor may prove to be helpful.
1.  Soft Diet:  During acute periods of pain a definite soft diet may be particularly helpful..(soups, milkshakes, eggs, jello, pasta.)  When reintroducing foods, cut everything into bite sized pieces.  Do not eat hard, crunchy foods.
2.  Cold Applications:  Applying cold packs is often helpful in reducing the symptoms of TMJ/TMD. You can use a small bag of frozen peas/corn as your cold pack. Place it on the painful joint for up to 15 minutes. Discontinue this if the pain increases.  Some headaches respond better to an ice pack placed on the painful area.
3.  Moist Heat:  Moist heat treatments are more effective in relieving pain in muscles than dry heat treatments.Only use warm moist treatments between two cold treatments!
Fill a wash basin with hot water (as hot as can handle) and soak a large towel in it. Wring out and apply it to the painful joint. You can also use a microwave oven to heat a moistened towel. Be careful not to overheat as it can burn the face.  
Painful muscle conditions may often be helped by following the moist heat treatment with quick, momentary strokes over the muscle with an ice cube.  Then warm the area with your hand or use warm moist heat as described above.  Repeat with the ice cube.  Light massage may be attempted at this time.
5.  Medication:  You can use anti-inflammatory medications like Advil and Motrin to reduce TMJ/TMD symptoms. Take 400mg four times a day. If you are unable to take Advil, you may take 2 tabs of aspirin four times a day. Do not mix Advil/Motrin and Aspirin. You can reduce the amount of aspirin you take as your symptoms subside. The effects of these medications may not be seen for up to a week. Continuous dosage is necessary.  
5.  Disengagement of the teeth:  to achieve long lasting relief from TMJ problems, it is essential that clenching and grinding of the jaws be completely eliminated.

One of the most important steps in breaking the habit of clenching and grinding your teeth is to learn to keep the lips together and the teeth apart.  This will help relax the muscles.  Yawning can place a strain on the joints, avoid opening too wide.  The preferred sleep position would be on your back. Poor oral habits such as biting fingernails and pens can aggravate the muscles and joints. It is important to avoid these habits to improve the symptoms of TMJ/TMD. 

You can have a calming effect on jaw pain by following these suggestions.

Not all jaw pain is associated with TMD.

If you feel that you might have TMD, it is always important to see your dentist and receive an exam. However, not all jaw pain is associated with TMD, and if you do not have TMD there are many different preventive steps you can take to maintain a healthy, strong smile.

  • Relax your face — "Lips together, teeth apart"
  • Avoid grinding your teeth
  • Avoid all gum chewing
  • Don't cradle the phone receiver between your head and shoulder — either use a headset or hold the receiver to your ear
  • Chew food evenly on both sides of your mouth
  • Do not sit with your chin rested on your hand
  • Practice good posture — keep your head up, back straight, and shoulders squared

Many people get TMD without ever having braces. Symptoms usually wax and wane regardless of whether braces are worn. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above and are concerned that you're a candidate for TMD treatment, please contact our office for a consultation.

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