The temporomandibular joints, or TMJ, are the joints that connect your jaw to your skull on either side of the face. They act like sliding hinges to create movements of the jaw – such as opening, closing, moving from side to side, and moving backwards and forwards. Temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD, occurs when problems associated with the jaws and facial muscles cause jaw pain, or TMJ pain.
Causes of TMD
The exact cause of TMD is unknown. However, the following are believed to play a significant role in TMD.
- Direct injury to the jaw, joint or muscles associated with the head and neck
- Grinding or clenching your teeth (also known as bruxism)
- Arthritis associated with the joint
- Movement of the disc or cushion that sits between ball-and-socket of the joint
- Stress and/or anxiety
Symptoms of TMD
Common signs and/or symptoms of TMD include:
- limited ability or complete inability to open or close the jaw
- pain associated with the joint, and/or associated ear ache or ear pain
- jaw clicking or popping, or popping sounds in the ear
- pain that feels like a toothache
- headaches or pain associated with the temple areas
- locking of the jaw joint.
Treatment for TMD
There are several treatment options to relieve TMJ pain. Your practitioner will assess your TMJ at every comprehensive examination and either diagnose the problem or refer you to an oral & maxillofacial surgeon, an oral medicine specialist, or a dentist who specialises in TMJ disorders. Often, a combination of the following treatment options are used simultaneously to relieve jaw pain or treat TMD.
Occlusal splint therapy
An occlusal splint is a custom-made mouthguard, or “splint”, that is fitted to either your upper or lower teeth and is usually worn throughout the night. This can alleviate the symptoms of TMD and can also prevent wear of your natural teeth if you do have any night-time grinding or clenching habits.
Physiotherapy can be used to address the muscles associated with the TMJ that can be causing pain. This therapy may include daily exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles of the jaw. A heat pack or a cold pack can also be used to treat the symptoms of TMD.
Along with other non-surgical treatment options, medications may be prescribed to treat TMJ pain. This option can include pain relief or anti-inflammatory medications, and in some cases muscle relaxants and anti-depressants.
If non-surgical treatment options have not been successful, surgical treatment may be necessary. Your clinician will happily refer you to an oral & maxillofacial surgeon to assess your case and administer any required procedure.
Dr Stephanie McManus, BBiomed (Melb), DDS (Melb)