TMD: It’s Not Dynamite

Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) (say that three times fast) are a painful set of symptoms caused by problems with, unsurprisingly, the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). This joint connects the temporal bones of the skull with the mandible (the lower jaw). You can actually feel these joints by placing your fingers gently in front of your earlobes and opening your mouth. You may sometimes hear people say they “have TMJ”; you can tell them you sure hope they do because if they didn’t it would be very hard for them to move their mouths and talk to you. Most of the time, of course, what they mean to say is that they have TMD.

TMD is not tightly defined and is mostly recognized by a set of symptoms. You might feel pain or pressure when you open your mouth to speak or eat; you may also find your mouth is stuck open or closed. Another sure sign of TMD is a distinctive popping, clicking or grinding when opening or closing the mouth. You may also experience swelling, muscle spasms, and headaches that start near the ear; pressure and pain behind the eyes can also be a sign of TMD.

Should you experience any combination of these symptoms, go to a Winnipeg dental clinic and get them to check on your TMJ. They will use a wide variety of diagnostic tools to determine your joints’ health; they may feel the joint and surrounding areas, checking for tenderness and tension, check your teeth for signs of clenching and grinding, and evaluating the range and quality of your jaw movement. They may use more sophisticated tools, including stethoscopes, x-rays, and MRIs if they feel they need more information to make a proper diagnosis. Once diagnostics are complete, your dentist will be able to tell you about the particular TMD you have, and how it can be treated.

When grinding and clenching are the cause of your disorder, you may get an occlusal guard; the purpose of these devices is to keep your teeth slightly apart so that you don’t clench. These guards are often used at night, so they’ve developed the common name “night guard”. Clenching is often caused by stress, so therapists, psychologist, and other mental health professionals may help reduce or eliminate the problem.

Dietary changes to relieve pressure on the jaw may also help solve many cases of TMD. Anti-inflammatory drugs can be used when the problem is caused by swelling, as can muscle relaxants. Certain orthodontic procedures can also reduce TMDs if they are caused by misalignment of the teeth; replacing missing teeth can alleviate symptoms as well.

When no other treatment options are viable, surgery is considered. Surgery can be used to “clean” the joint; inflamed tissue is removed, and the joint is rinsed. More intense surgery can also be used if the joint has dislocated and needs to be moved back into place. Treatment for TMD is highly effective, and when patients keep up with recommended practices, the pain and tension can often be relieved permanently.