What is TMD?
TMD, or Temporomandibular Disorder, is a condition that affects the temporomandibular joint and its adjoining muscles. These joints are located directly in front of the ears (you can feel them moving when you open your mouth wide), and they make it possible for us to move our jaws forward and sideways. Formerly known as TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction), TMD can affect anyone at any time, but it’s most commonly associated with stress or changes in a person’s emotional state. When a patient suffers from TMD, the body responds by causing severe pain, and it can be difficult to open or even eat.
Causes of TMD
Habitual teeth grinding and or clenching are common causes of TMD. For example, some people respond to stress by tensing up, which can manifest as teeth grinding. Think of a vigorous workout—you’ve probably seen weight lifters clench their teeth when they’re lifting heavy weights. These are natural reactions and often times we do them without even realizing it. Other common causes of TMD include trauma to the face as well as muscle spasms from extreme fatigue. If you sleep in the wrong position at night it can cause tension in parts of your neck and jaw, which can also lead to TMD.
The best way to treat TMD is to use methods that reduce pain and discomfort. Treatment may include education, heat, painkillers, muscle relaxants, a soft food diet, or jaw exercises. Some people may need to use a special “bite guard,” which is a plastic device that keeps TMD patients from clenching and grinding their teeth together. This allows your muscles and joints to relax—and it can be a much-needed relief for patients struggling with TMD. Bite guards are usually worn at night, but they can be worn during the day if clenching or grinding becomes severe. If symptoms still remain after treating with the above methods, then dentists will usually conduct a re-evaluation for other problems such as:
- Internal joint derangement (displacement of the temporomandibular joint)
- Osteoarthritis (deterioration of joint cartilage)
- Synovitis (joint swelling)
Although rare, dentists may need to treat severe cases of TMD with bite adjustments or surgical procedures. These are usually a last resort since the results are permanent.
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