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Posts for tag: tmj disorders

By David Mayer, DDS
July 03, 2019
Category: Oral Health
Tags: tmj disorders  
JawJointDisordersmaybeConnectedtoOtherHealthProblems

If you have chronic jaw pain, you may be one of an estimated 10 million Americans suffering from temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD). If so, it's quite possible you're also coping with other health conditions.

TMD is an umbrella term for disorders affecting the temporomandibular (jaw) joints, muscles and adjoining tissues. The most common symptoms are limited jaw function and severe pain. Determining the causes for these disorders can be difficult, but trauma, bite or dental problems, stress and teeth clenching habits seem to be the top factors. Women of childbearing age are most susceptible to these disorders.

In recent years we've also learned that many people with TMD also experience other conditions. In a recent survey of TMD patients, two-thirds reported having three or more other health conditions, the most frequent being fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis or chronic headaches. Researchers are actively exploring if any systemic connections exist between TMD and these other conditions, and how these connections might affect treatment changes and advances for all of them including TMD.

In the meantime, there remain two basic approaches for treating TMD symptoms. The most aggressive and invasive approach is to surgically correct perceived defects in the jaw structure. Unfortunately, the results from this approach have been mixed in their effectiveness, with some patients even reporting worse symptoms afterward.

The more conservative approach is to treat TMD orthopedically, like other joint problems. These less invasive techniques include the use of moist heat or ice to reduce swelling, physical therapy and medication to relieve pain or reduce muscle spasming. Patients are also encouraged to adopt softer diets with foods that are easier to chew. And dentists can also provide custom-fitted bite guards to help ease the stress on the joints and muscles as well as reduce any teeth grinding habits.

As we learn more about TMD and its relationship to other health conditions, we hope to improve diagnosis and treatment. Until then, most dentists and physicians recommend TMD patients try the more conservative treatments first, and only consider surgery if this proves unsatisfactory. It may take some trial and error, but there are ways now to ease the discomfort of TMD.

If you would like more information on the causes and treatments of TMD, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Chronic Jaw Pain and Associated Conditions.”

TryConservativeMeasurestoTreatingTMDBeforeMoreAggressiveOptions

After ruling out other possibilities for your constant jaw joint pain, your doctor has diagnosed you with a temporomandibular disorder (TMD). Now that you know what you have, what can you do about it?

Unfortunately, it's not always an easy answer. Ideas about treatment are almost as numerous as theories on the causes of TMD. By and large, though, we can classify treatment into two broad categories: conservative and aggressive.

The conservative approach is the result of many years of experimentation and application; it's also much less invasive than aggressive treatments. For most patients, though, these treatments can offer significant relief from pain and dysfunction.

Conservative treatments are based primarily on the philosophy that the temporomandibular joint is like any other joint, and should be treated that way. Treatments include thermal therapies like ice or heat packs applied to the jaw, physical therapy (gentle stretching, jaw exercise, and massage) and pain and muscle relaxant medication. In cases where teeth grinding may be a contributing factor, we might recommend a bite guard worn in the mouth to reduce biting pressure.

On the other end of the spectrum are treatments like altering the bite or the position of the jaw. The purpose of bite alteration is to change the dynamic when the jaws are in contact during chewing or clenching, and reduce pressure on the joints. This is often done by reshaping the teeth's biting surfaces, moving the teeth with orthodontics or performing crown and bridgework. Another possibility, actually modifying the lower jaw location, requires surgery. All of these aggressive treatments are done in order of less to more invasiveness.

These more aggressive treatments, especially jaw surgery, are irreversible. Furthermore, studies on results have not been encouraging — there's no guarantee you'll receive relief from your symptoms. You should consider the aggressive approach only as a last resort, after you've tried more conservative measures. Even then, you should get a second opinion before undergoing more invasive procedures.

Hopefully, you'll see relief from therapies that have made a significant difference for most TMD sufferers. And that's our goal: to reduce your pain and dysfunction and help you regain your quality of life.

If you would like more information on TMD causes and treatments, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Seeking Relief from TMD.”