What is TMD and How Does it Develop?
‘TMD’ stands for temporomandibular joint disorder, a painful condition which affects your face, jaws, and mouth. While the root cause of it is yet unknown, there are a few factors that can trigger it, and they are often stress-related. These are:
- Habitual grinding or clenching of teeth
- Arthritis (Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, etc)
- Other inflammatory & 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
While TMD can affect anyone regardless of age or gender, it is more commonly found in adults between 20 – 40 years of age, and women more so 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 is a ball-and-socket joint, just 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 Symptoms of TMD
The most typical symptom of TMD is a locked jaw, where you are unable to fully open your mouth due to pain or muscle spasms. These symptoms are usually worsened 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 Which TMD Can Affect
Our ears are delicate, complex organs, and you may be surprised to know that TMD can also cause ear pain due to the close proximity. On top of that, 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, which means that you may experience dizziness or have trouble balancing, as a result of these issues. In fact, up to 80% of TMD patients report having pain in their ears. As you may well know, our body operates as a whole, and problems in one area can often affect other parts as well.
How is TMD Treated?
The doctor or dentist would typically begin by asking several questions about your medical history, medications you may be on, recent injuries, and other health conditions. He or she will then examine your jaw, face, neck, ears, mouth and throat.
There are five pairs of muscles that control your jaw, and they will ask you to manipulate your jaw in various directions and motions, in order to judge the extent or potentiality of the problem. If a closer look is needed, an x-ray, MRI or CT scan may be taken as well.
TMD may be diagnosed by your primary care physician, ENT doctor, dentist or pain specialist, 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 the treatment of TMD. He holds full membership in all four Royal Surgical Colleges of the United Kingdom and Ireland, and has been diagnosing and treating such patients for many years. This has led to a solid repository of knowledge, based on an important 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 isn’t recommended that you self-diagnose, as the areas affected, and thus the treatment needed is entirely different.
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 pain that you don’t have to. Get a proper diagnosis and work with a good healthcare team to 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 experiencing any orofacial pain. It is crucial to prevent further damage, rather than try desperately to fix the problem later on. As it stands, you are already coping with enough pain on a daily basis.
In conclusion, if you’re having any of the symptoms listed in this article, especially if they affect your face, ear, neck, mouth or jaw, then it is highly recommended that you seek a proper diagnosis from a reliable doctor who cares. Dr. Chionh of Nourish Dental Care specialises in pain and sleep dentistry, and you can find out more about his dental practice here.