The overall well being of a human being is determined by many things, such as dental and oral health. If a person is experiencing problems with their jaws, for instance, or the muscles that control the jaw, they may experience issues in how they talk, yawn, or even chew. This is a likely sign of temporomandibular disorder (TMD), which occurs when the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is not functioning well. TMD is a dental condition that our dentists at The Downey Dentist will diagnose. However, it is crucial to understand this dental condition first, as we will discuss in this article, and how we can treat you.

Understanding Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) and Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD)

The mouth of a human being is designed to serve several functions that are important for their life and general wellbeing. It is through the mouth that we consume food, converse verbally, and breathe. Jaw movement is what makes the opening and closing of a mouth possible. When this happens, a person can talk, chew, and even yawn, among other things. An issue with the jaws or jaw muscles will affect the functioning of the jaws, making it impossible for a person to perform some of their oral functions.

TMJ, fully known as the temporomandibular joint, is the connection that makes the opening and closing of the mouth possible. The joint is found at the base of the skull, in front of both ears. It connects the lower jaw (mandible) with the upper jaw (maxilla) and works just like a door's hinge. The joint enables the mandible to move up and down, which consequently opens and closes the mouth to allow it to function well. Through TMJ, the lower jaw is also able to move forward, backward, and from side to side.

What happens if the jaw is not functioning well? It means that the mouth will not be able to perform some of its essential functions. This calls for a need to visit a dental specialist who may recommend a series of treatments, including home treatments and sometimes surgery, to provide some relief.

How can a person tell that something is not right? A dentist will need to perform a series of tests to diagnose temporomandibular disorders (TMD). However, before that, there are specific symptoms that a person may experience, which may prompt them to schedule an appointment with a dentist. Some of these are:

  • A clicking sound may be heard when a person is trying to open or close their mouth. This means that your jaw is locking in place and is an indication that something is wrong
  • Pain when chewing or yawning or tenderness in the jaw muscles. Any pain or discomfort is a definite indication that something may be wrong
  • Misaligned lower and upper teeth when your mouth closes
  • Headaches, migraines, earaches, and pressure coming from behind the eyes could also be an indication that your jaw has some issues

Early treatment for TMD is recommended before the problem gets out of hand. That is why you need to identify the right dentist immediately you experience any of those symptoms to get started with treatment sooner than later.

Causes of TMD

An issue with a joint that connects your jaw to the skull means that the joint has been damaged or injured. Medical professionals have not yet completely understood what causes damage or injury. However, it has been established that several issues cause the dysfunction and muscle tightness that characterize TMD. It is, however, not very clear if some of these issues directly lead to TMD, or they are a consequence of the symptoms the patient experiences. An injury to the jaw or muscles around the neck and head can, for instance, be caused by a strong blow to the affected area or whiplash.

Other possible causes of TMD include:

  • Clenching or grinding one’s teeth- for some people, clenching and grinding their teeth is a habit they have picked and are not able to release. What they don't know is that clenching or grinding one's teeth puts so much pressure on TMJ and could eventually lead to TMD. Some people grind or clench their teeth unconsciously while awake as a way to deal with stress, anger, or to boost their concentration.
  • Dislocation of the disc or soft tissue between the joint socket and the ball
  • Arthritis/ inflammation in the temporomandibular joint or other disorders that come from muscle inflammation that could affect the joint
  • Trauma to the jaw or teeth- this could lead to a dislocated or broken jaw. A misaligned jaw will be painful when a person tries to chew, talk, yawn, or even open their mouths.
  • Stress and anxiety- sometimes stress can cause a person to tighten their jaw and facial muscles or tighten their teeth, which could damage their jaw muscles.
  • Excessive chewing of gum
  • Orthodontic braces

Possible Indications That One Has TMD

The main indication that a person could have TMD is when they start experiencing pain in their jaw joint. This is the joint that is located in from if your ears. In most cases, the pain related to TMD can also be experienced in the eye, face, ears, forehead, or the neck. The pain could be temporary, and sometimes it could last for several years. It could affect one side of the face, and other times, it could harm both sides. Other common indications of TMD include:

  • Tenderness or pain in the affected jaw. This will be more experienced in the area around the affected joint
  • Clicking or popping of the jaw commonly called crepitus. The sound will mainly be experienced when one is moving the joint. sometimes the sound could be muffled, and other times it could be loud enough for other people to hear
  • Pain that is more like an aching tooth but is not on the tooth
  • Earache or some cracking sounds in the ears
  • Popping or ringing noises in the ear also called tinnitus. Sometimes a person could experience fullness or pressure in the ears
  • Recurring headaches and sometimes migraines
  • Stiff, sore on right neck or jaw muscles
  • Blurred vision
  • Muscle contractions in the affected jaw
  • Pain in the face, jaw, mouth, or cheek, or tingling and numbness on the chin
  • Some soreness at the surface of the tongue
  • A lump, pain, or swelling in the area around the temple
  • Shoulder pains
  • Difficulty in chewing, talking, yawning, and anything else that involves opening the mouth. Sometimes one may experience problems in opening their mouth wide
  • Dislocation or locking of the jaw, also called lockjaw. It could be experienced after yawning
  • Vertigo or dizziness
  • A tired feeling on the face

How Do Dentists Diagnose TMD?

With so many indications as listed above, it is not easy to tell right away that a person has TMD. Again, other conditions present the same kinds of symptoms. Tooth decay, gum diseases, and arthritis, for instance, will present themselves with pain, discomfort, difficulty in opening one's mouth, and swelling, just like TMD. That is why it is essential to seek help from an experienced dentist to ensure that he/she gets the diagnosis correct.

To discover what is happening to your teeth, gums, or jaws, a competent dentist will question your general wellbeing. He/she will also perform a physical examination to ensure that the treatment that will be recommended will be what is needed for your issue. During the physical exam, your dentist will check your TMJs for tenderness and pain. He/she will also listen to any grating, clicks, or pop sounds when you try to move your jaw joints. Your dentist will be checking to ensure that your jaw is working as required and does not lock when opening or closing your mouth. He/she will also test your biting and chewing to check for any issues on your face muscles.

Again, your dentist could recommend a full X-ray so he can have a better view of your jaws, teeth, and temporomandibular joints to eliminate any other problem. There are other tests a dentist could carry out too, including computer tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI will show the dentist if TMJ discs are in their proper place as you move your jaws. A CT scan, on the other hand, will show the bony details of the affected jaw joint.

If a problem is diagnosed right away, you may be sent to an oral surgeon for proper treatment and care. This is the doctor who specializes in surgical procedures around and in the face, jaw area, and the mouth. You could also be sent to an orthodontist who will ensure that your muscles, joints, and teeth are working as they should.

Treatment for Temporomandibular Joint Disorders

Fortunately, there are several things that a person can do on their own to relieve most of the symptoms listed above. Your dentist could also recommend some of the remedies listed here. The good thing is that most of the home remedies suggested are safe and could also help the patient reduce their stress as well as relax.  In addition to home remedies, there are modern treatments that could help take care of your TMD.

Home Treatments for TMD

The use of ice or cold packs on the area around the affected joint is one of the most common remedies your dentist can recommend. It is something the patient can do on their own, too, and does not cost them anything. Ice and cold packs will not only help relieve your pain but also the swelling if there is any. Ice packs could be applied for as few as ten minutes.

Your dentist could also recommend the use of over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs that are non-steroidal. These are, for instance, naproxen or Aleve and ibuprofen. Pain relievers such as aspirin and acetaminophen could also be used to keep the pain away and help with the swelling.

Eating foods that are soft and not hard could also help, as well as avoiding chewing gums. Hard foods and constant chewing of gums will exert more pressure on the affected joint, worsening the problem. Some of the foods your dentist can recommend are, for instance, mashed potatoes, yogurt, scrambled eggs, and cooked fruits. You may need to avoid chewy foods for the moment and also thick and large bites, which may require opening your mouth a little wider.

Patients can also benefit from gentle massage or self-stretching exercises of the neck and jaw muscles. Your dentist can recommend  a doctor or a physical therapist who will show you some of the best stretches you can practice at home to get better

Stress management and relaxation techniques will help reduce grinding and clenching of teeth. As mentioned, these are the leading causes of TMD.

The patient could benefit from temporary relief from discomfort and pain associated with TMD through the use of certain relaxing essential oils. These are, for instance, chamomile, lavender, clary sage, and sweet marjoram.

In addition to the home treatments, your dentist could recommend the following:

  • That you avoid extreme movements of the jaw. Keeping chewing, talking, yelling, singing, and yawning to the minimum could help relax your jaw muscles for quicker relief.
  • That you avoid resting your jawbone on your hand, you may also have to avoid using your phone while held between your ear and shoulder. Practicing good posture could help reduce facial and neck pain.
  • That you can try keeping your teeth a little apart as frequently as possible. It is a great way to relieve jaw pressure. If you are fond of grinding and clenching your teeth, practice keeping the tongue between your teeth, at least during the day
  • Master some relaxation strategies that could help loosen your jaw a little.

Medical Treatment for TMD

There is no guarantee that home remedies will be sufficient. If they do not work for you, you can consider medical treatment to effectively treat TMD and take away all the symptoms you may be experiencing. Some types of treatment will not provide a full cure for TMD, but they could provide a temporary and sometimes long-term reprieve from the pain and other symptoms. Some of these include:

Dental Splints: These are also called stabilization splints, occlusal splints, or bite guards. They are dental appliances that are placed in a patient's mouth to keep their teeth in position and to prevent teeth grinding. Dental splints look more like mouth guards and are usually prescribed by and fitted in place by jaw specialists.

Botox: It could be recommended by a medical professional to help the patient relax their jaw muscles.

Physical therapy: Exercising the jaw could help strengthen the jaw muscles, improve their flexibility, and help improve their range of motion.

Bio-behavioral management, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and biofeedback, could help take away the intensity of pain associated with TMD.

Acupuncture: trigger point treatment has helped in some cases of TMD.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation: this can be used if all the above-listed medications do not work. With this therapy, electrical currents will be administered at low levels to the affected area to provide some pain relief through promoting relaxation of jaw and face muscles. Treatment could be done in a dentist's clinic or even at home.

Surgery as Treatment for TMD

TMD, in its advanced stage, may be challenging to treat by the use of home remedies and medical treatments listed above. For that reason, your dentist can recommend surgery to fix the problem once and for good. Note that once the surgery is done, it can never be undone; that is why it is advisable to think through it and seek advice from the best dentist to make the right decision.

There are mainly three kinds of surgery that TMD patients can go through, depending on the nature of their problem:

Arthrocentesis: this will be recommended if the patient does not have a significant history of TMD, but their jaws are currently locked. The operation is minor and can be done in a dentist's office. Before the procedure starts, the patient is given general anesthesia, and then needles are inserted into the affected joint to wash it out or unstick

Arthroscopy: This is a kind of procedure that is done by the use of an arthroscope, a unique tool that contains a torch and a lens. The tool lets the dentist see inside the joint to understand the actual problem. Before the procedure begins, the patient will get general anesthesia, and then the dentist will make a minor cutting at the front of their ear where the tool is inserted.

Open-joint surgery: This kind of operation is needed when your dentists suspect that you have lumps on or around the affected joint, or when the bone structures in the jaw joint are wearing down. After general anesthesia, your dentist will cut open the whole region around the affected joint to get an unlimited view as well as better access to the main issue.

Find a Downey Dentist Near Me

Your mouth plays a significant role in your life. Any problem with the mouth itself, teeth, gums, or jaws will make it hard for the mouth to perform all its functions. An issue with your TMJ, for instance, may make it hard for you to talk, chew, or even live your life fully. The Downey Dentist has an excellent team of specialized dentists who can diagnose and recommend the best treatment for your TMD. Call us at 562-746-0350 and let us give you back your smile!

We have other convenient locations near you: Los Angeles Dentist, Lomita Dentist, Carson Dentist, Hawthorne Dentist