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Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD): What It Is and How to Treat It

By August 15, 2022November 21st, 2022TMJ Disorder
A Black woman clutches her jaw, indicating a temporomandibular disorder (TMD)

Living with pain can be incredibly isolating. But, living with temporomandibular joint pain (also called jaw pain) can be downright devastating. From eating to speaking, temporomandibular disorder (TMD) can make your life considerably more challenging. Luckily, a qualified dentist can help you manage the disorder with life-changing TMJ treatments.

Located in Sacramento, CA, Dr. Timothy E. Mickiewicz and his compassionate team have years of experience helping patients fight bothersome jaw pain. If you think that you’re suffering from a temporomandibular disorder, then schedule an appointment now. Patients can reach our team at (916) 469-9178 or online here.

If you’re not sure if you’re living with a temporomandibular disorder (TMD), then keep reading. In this post, Dr. Mickiewicz explains what temporomandibular disorder is and what you can do about it.

What is the temporomandibular joint?

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is located at the point where the jaw meets the skull. The muscles and ligaments surrounding the temporomandibular joint allow us to open and close our mouths, which makes speaking, chewing, laughing, and yawning possible.

Locating the TMJ is easy–simply place your fingers on either side of your face. While opening and closing your mouth, you’ll be able to feel the TMJ moving similarly to a door hinge. If you’re experiencing pain in this area, then you may be living with a temporomandibular disorder.

What is temporomandibular disorder (TMD)?

Temporomandibular disorder is an umbrella term relating to the dysfunction of the anatomy or physiology of the jaw joint. Because the jaw is an active part of our bodies, they frequently become subject to overuse, accidental injury, and stress.

As a result, damage to the temporomandibular joint often leads to painful symptoms that can keep patients from living their lives to the fullest. Common signs and symptoms of a TMD include:

  • Persistent headaches
  • Face, jaw, head, neck, shoulder, and back pain
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Low jaw mobility
  • Difficulty yawning, chewing, or speaking
  • Jaw joints that click or lock
  • Tinnitus (also called ear ringing)

Why do I have a TMD?

The exact cause of a TMD may never be clear. But, there are a few risk factors that greatly increase the likelihood of developing the condition, such as:

  • Teeth grinding while sleeping (also called bruxism)
  • Stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Sleep apnea
  • Arthritis
  • Injuries to the jaw joint
  • Nail biting, gum chewing, and eating hard-to-chew foods (like beef jerky)
  • Genetics

Whatever the cause, a TMD typically develops due to one of three reasons:

  • Trauma to the joint
  • Thinning cartilage 
  • Eroding or misaligned disks

Ultimately, a comprehensive consultation with our Sacramento dentist will help us pinpoint possible causes. With this information, our team can formulate a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs.

How common are temporomandibular disorders?

TMDs are remarkably common. In fact, TMDs are one of the most commonly reported musculoskeletal conditions, second only to lower back pain. 

Data suggest that temporomandibular disorders affect women more than men. Indeed, nearly 20% of women compared to 10% of men between the ages of 25 to 44 live with a TMD. However, both sexes report fewer symptoms of TMJ pain and dysfunction as they get older.

Nonetheless, a TMD at any age can be debilitating. Fortunately, there are several options for patients to manage their condition.

How can I treat a TMD?

There are several ways that Dr. Mickiewicz can help patients treat or manage a painful TMD. From simple to more complex, patients may consider the following treatment options:

  • Medications: For some patients, the pain of a temporomandibular disorder is unbearable, making daily activities nearly impossible. Dr. Mickiewicz may suggest prescription medications like painkillers, muscle relaxants, or antidepressants to address the pain while pursuing other treatment options.
  • Oral appliances: Using medical silicone, our team can craft custom-made oral appliances for patients to wear at night. These protective appliances prevent teeth grinding and help move the jaw into better alignment, which significantly decreases jaw pain.
  • Physical therapy: Dr. Mickiewicz may refer patients to a physical therapist specializing in TMDs. These therapists focus on stretching and strengthening weak jaw muscles, as well as working on mobility and finding jaw-friendly accommodations for patients.
  • Trigger-point injections (TPI): These corticosteroid injections target overworked jaw muscles to relax them and soothe the pain. Dr. Mickiewicz may also recommend this treatment for patients who suffer from migraines or chronic headaches.
  • Surgery: Often as a last result, Dr. Mickiewicz may recommend a referral to a surgeon specializing in temporomandibular disorders. However, research on whether TMJ surgery offers long-lasting results or not is minimal. This leads most medical and dental professionals to pursue all other conservative options before recommending surgery.

Patients also can facilitate their treatment by making lifestyle changes, such as:

  • Avoiding harmful habits: Many patients don’t realize that they are working their jaw joints all day long by biting their nails, chewing on ice or gum, or eating tough foods. But, the repetitive motion of these habits can quickly tire out already sore jaws. So, patients should try to limit these habits to avoid worsening conditions.
  • Using over-the-counter painkillers: Store-bought medications, like ibuprofen, help alleviate swelling and reduce pain. Patients should use these medications whenever necessary. Always follow the directions on the packaging to prevent adverse effects.
  • Practicing mindfulness: For many patients, stress and anxiety cause them to clench their jaws, which leads to jaw dysfunction and pain. Practicing mindfulness is a great way to reduce stress and unclench tight jaws.
  • Choosing a softer diet: While sticky taffy and chewy beef jerky are delicious, they aren’t worth chronic jaw pain. So, patients should focus on choosing softer foods, like bread, scrambled eggs, and mashed potatoes. With a little imagination, patients can create a soft diet that is just as enjoyable and fulfilling as their previous diets.

Treating a TMD requires swift action. So, if you’re experiencing persistent jaw pain, then don’t wait–schedule an appointment with a qualified Sacramento dentist now.

Have a TMD? We can help you treat it!

Temporomandibular disorders do not get better by themselves. We can help. Schedule your appointment with Dr. Mickiewicz by calling (916) 469-9178 or by submitting a request here.