What is TMJ (TMD) and What Causes It?

TMJ Facial Pain

If you’re suffering from facial pain, you might wonder if you have TMJ. If you’ve been diagnosed with TMJ or TMD, you probably know too well what the symptoms are. Either way, you might want more information about it. What is TMJ exactly, what causes it and how is it diagnosed?

What is TMJ?

First, TMJ or TMD involves the temporomandibular (TM) joints, which are located on each side of your head. These joints work with your muscles, ligaments, discs and bones, enabling you to speak, chew and yawn.

Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) occur when your TMs aren’t working properly. These disorders are often mistakenly called “TMJ” because they involve your temporomandibular joints. As you can see in this brief video, your TM joints impact all areas of your face. It’s no wonder they can cause a great deal of pain and other issues.

So What Causes TMD?

More than 15% of American adults suffer from chronic facial pain, such as jaw pain, headaches or earaches, according to the American Dental Association. TMD is the cause of pain for many of these sufferers, and more frequently for women than men. Most commonly occurring in people ages 20 to 40, TMD pain and discomfort might be temporary but it can last for years.

Although the exact cause of TMD remains unclear, dentists believe that the symptoms stem from problems with the muscles of the jaw or with the parts of the joint itself. Problems with your TM joints can be attributed to:

  • Grinding or clenching your teeth
  • Stress, if it provokes you to tighten your facial muscles or jaw
  • Dislocating the soft cushion or disc between the ball and socket
  • Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis in the TM joints
  • Injury to your jaw, head or neck

To diagnose TMD, your dentist will check your TM joints for tenderness or pain, look for a limited range of motion or locking of your jaw and examine your bite. He or she will listen for clicking or popping sounds as you move your mouth. And you may need to have panoramic x-rays taken. In some cases, your dentist may refer you to an oral surgeon (maxillofacial surgeon) for treatment.

Call your dentist if you suffer from the following symptoms of TMD:

  • Facial, neck or shoulder pain when you chew, speak or open your mouth widely
  • Inability to fully open your mouth easily
  • Locking of your jaws
  • Clicking, popping or grating sounds in your jaw when opening or closing your mouth (with or without pain)
  • Difficulty chewing or discomfort when biting
  • Swelling on the side of your face
  • Toothaches, headaches or neck aches
  • Dizziness, earaches or hearing loss

If you are diagnosed with TMD, your dentist or oral surgeon may recommend using a splint or night guard, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), corrective treatment of your teeth, trigger-point injections or other forms of treatment. Because surgery is irreversible, it should be your last resort, and you should get 2 or 3 professional opinions before doing it.

Meanwhile, to limit any discomfort in your face and jaw, talk to your dentist about low-grade pain medicines like ibuprofen. Consider eating softer foods as much as possible. Avoid strenuous lifting and becoming overstressed, which might cause you to clench your teeth and agitate the TMD.

If left untreated, TMD can lead to other more significant health problems including:

  • Poor oral health
  • Chronic headaches
  • Lack of sleep, due to tooth grinding, which can lead to depression over time
  • Malnutrition or eating disorders
  • Hearing problems

TMJ, or more correctly called TMD, should be taken seriously and treated as soon as possible. Use a trusted dentist that makes your dental work as pleasant and pain-free as possible, like The Happy Tooth dentists in North Carolina. Schedule your appointment today to stop your pain and to start smiling again.


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