What is TMD and How Does it Develop?
‘TMD’ stands for Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, a painful condition which causes facial pain. This can exist anywhere within it, from your jaws, to mouth and even ears. Whilst the root cause of TMD is yet unknown, there are a few triggers that are often stress related. These are:
- Habitual grinding or clenching of teeth
- Arthritis (Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, etc)
- Other inflammatory and musculoskeletal disorders
- Jaw injuries or trauma
- Poorly positioned teeth
- Poor posture (especially in the neck and upper back areas)
- People who have a genetic disposition to pain and/or stress sensitivities
- Orthodontic braces
- Excessive gum chewing
Whilst TMD can affect anyone regardless of age or gender, it is more common in adults between 20 – 40 years of age. It also affects women more than men. It is also estimated that more than 30 percent of adults will suffer from it at some point in their lives.
Why is the Temporomandibular Joint so Important?
The Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) is a ball-and-socket joint, like the ones in your hips or shoulders. It is found within our jaw, which is one of the most used joints within our bodies. It would be impossible to talk, chew or swallow without it.
Common TMD Symptoms
The most typical symptom of TMD is a locked jaw, where you can’t open your mouth fully due to pain or muscle spasms. These symptoms usually worsen when you chew hard foods, or try to open your mouth wide.
The main signs of TMD to watch out for are:
- Orofacial pain (pain felt in the mouth, jaws or face)
- Ear pain
- Neck aches
- Frequent headaches
- Crunching or clicking sensations and sounds on either side of your jaw
- Muscle spasms in the jaw
- Difficulty chewing food
- Locking of the jaw
Other Parts of the Body That TMD Can Affect
You may be surprised, but TMD can also cause ear pain. Our ears are delicate, complex organs, and are in close proximity to the TMJ. It can also cause tinnitus (ringing in the ears), hearing loss, swelling, inflammation and other ear related problems.
Our ears play a crucial role in our body’s equilibrium. Hence, you may experience dizziness or have trouble with your balance, as a result of these issues. In fact, up to 80% of TMD patients report having pain in their ears. The body operates as a whole, and problems in one area can often affect other parts, too.
How is TMD Diagnosed & Treated?
The doctor or dentist will begin by asking several questions about your medical history, medications you may be on, recent injuries, and other health conditions. They will examine your jaw, face, neck, ears, mouth and throat.
There are five pairs of muscles that control your jaw. They will ask you to manipulate your jaw in various directions and motions. This helps to ascertain possible problems, and their extent. An x-ray, MRI or CT scan may be taken if they need a closer look.
Your primary care physician, ENT doctor, dentist or pain specialist can give a diagnosis. But what’s important is the follow-up care, especially for long term and severe TMD.
Dr. Chionh of Nourish Dental Care practises dentistry, and specialises in TMD. He holds full membership in all four Royal Surgical Colleges of the United Kingdom and Ireland. He has been diagnosing and treating many patients for many years. This has led to a solid repository of knowledge; one that’s based on a combination of academics and hands-on experience.
It is important to note that some of the symptoms for TMD overlap with other disorders such as Trigeminal Neuralgia, migraines, or ear infections. It is not recommended that you self-diagnose. The affected areas differ, and thus the treatment that is needed.
When to Seek Help for Your Pain
You should seek help if your quality of life has been affected; there is no need to live with unnecessary pain. Get a proper diagnosis and work with a good healthcare team so you can live your best life possible.
Those who have autoimmune disorders that affect the joints or who suffer from arthritis conditions should also get checked, if they experience any orofacial pain. It is critical to prevent further damage, rather than fix the problem in desperation later on. You are already coping with enough or too much pain on a daily basis.
To conclude, seek help and a proper diagnosis from a reliable doctor who cares, if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed in this article. Remember that TMD can cause facial pain and affect any part of the face, ears, neck, mouth and/or jaw.