Do I have TMD?

Dr. Reza Written by Dr. Reza Khazaie

Do I Have TMD? - Willow Pass Dental Care - Concord, CA

What is TMD?

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TMJ disorders encompass conditions that impact the temporomandibular joint and the associated muscles responsible for jaw movement. TMD is commonly used to describe the presence of pain, tenderness, clicking, or locking of the TMJ and the surrounding tissue.

Some symptoms of TMD include:

  • Jaw pain or soreness
  • Pain when chewing or speaking
  • Clicking, popping, or grinding noises when opening/closing the mouth
  • Locking of the jaw open or closed
  • Headaches
  • Ear pain

The causes of TMD include arthritis, joint or disk injury, teeth grinding or clenching, stress, and misalignment of teeth or the TMJ. Treatment options vary depending on the causes and may involve physical therapy, splint therapy, medications, orthodontics, surgery, stress reduction, and other approaches. It is crucial to address contributing factors for long-term relief.

Do I have TMD?

To ascertain whether you are experiencing TMD (temporomandibular joint dysfunction), it is necessary to undergo an evaluation conducted by a dental practitioner. Nevertheless, the following symptoms may serve as indicators of TMD:

  • Opening your mouth becomes difficult
  • Your jaw locks or gets stuck in either the closed or open mouth position
  • A popping, clicking, or grit sound may cause pain when you talk, eat, or open your mouth.
  • When you chew, speak, or open your mouth wide, you feel pain or tenderness in your face, jaw joint, neck, and shoulders.
  • Your face feels lethargic.
  • You have difficulty when chewing hard or sticky foods
  • The side of your face starts to show signs of swelling

The causes of TMD include arthritis, joint or disk injury, teeth grinding or clenching, stress, and misalignment of teeth or the TMJ. Treatment options vary depending on the causes and may involve physical therapy, splint therapy, medications, orthodontics, surgery, stress reduction, and other approaches. It is crucial to address contributing factors for long-term relief.

Do the symptoms of TMD / TMJ go away?

For some people with temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD/TMJ), the symptoms may entirely go away at some point. But for many, TMD symptoms instead tend to fluctuate in severity.

TMD pain and dysfunction can be managed well with suitable treatment that is customized to the specific causes. However, patients may experience symptoms such as jaw pain, difficulty chewing, locking jaw, and headaches that can recur periodically or evolve over time.

Factors influencing the progression and longevity of TMD symptoms include:

  • If underlying causes like teeth grinding or arthritis are addressed
  • Stress levels and related habits like jaw-clenching
  • The type of treatments used and adherence to them
  • Genetic predisposition and how far issues are already advanced
  • Ability to avoid re-injury to the TMJ area over time

Maintaining symptom control often requires lifelong vigilance in avoiding habits that worsen the condition, consistently using nightguards and undergoing physical therapy, as well as managing any underlying conditions that contribute to TMD.

Who is at risk for TMD?

Certain risk factors increase an individual’s susceptibility to developing temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD). Below, you will find some of the primary factors associated with this condition:

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Misaligned Bite
  • Age: Most affected are people between 20 to 40 years old. Problems can arise later too.
  • Gender: Women are at a higher risk. This is potentially due to hormonal influences.
  • Injuries: Prior jaw, face, or dental trauma makes TMD more likely. Whiplash can also damage the TMJ area as well.
  • Teeth grinding or clenching: Chronic teeth grinding and clenching will put extreme pressure on the TMJ.
  • Arthritis: Degenerative joint diseases like osteoarthritis commonly affect the jaw joint.
  • Stress: Those with frequent stress and anxiety tend to habitually clench more.
  • Posture issues: Poor neck and shoulder postures add imbalance to the jaw positioning.
  • Dental factors: A misaligned bite, missing or crooked teeth, or uneven chewing surface distribution.

If you have any of those TMD risk factors, get evaluated promptly when noticing pain on chewing or other odd jaw symptoms arise. The earlier treatment begins, the more manageable symptoms become.

How do you treat TMD?

The following are some therapies you can do to treat TMD:

1. Keep your jaw in a resting position

Overuse of the jaw can cause issues for those who suffer from TMD. Maintaining a resting position with your jaw gives the joint a chance to relax and fall back into place.

Minimizing certain activities like:

  • Yawning excessively
  • Chewing hard and sticky foods
  • Chewing for long periods
  • Talking or singing for extended amounts of time
  • Yelling with your mouth wide open

These activities can cause added pain to your TMJ.

To relieve some of the pain, keep your teeth apart slightly and keep the clenching and grinding to a minimum.

2. Apply a cold or hot compress

Using a hot or cold compress works for all muscle pain, including the joints and muscles in the jaw. It is recommended to use heat in the area in the mornings to increase blood flow and relax the jaw to prepare it for the day.

Likewise, using an ice pack at night is beneficial to help bring down any swelling or pain accumulated throughout the day. It is recommended to apply these compresses for 15 to 20 minutes, no longer. Make sure you use a cloth to add a layer of protection between the compress and your skin.

3. Take steps to reduce stress

TMD is most common for those who excessively grind and clench their teeth. In some cases, this can be caused by increased stress and anxiety. This anxiety can cause pressure and pain in the jaw joints due to consistent cleaning.

It is best to try meditation, yoga, and other forms of stress reduction like gardening or reading to calm yourself from day-to-day anxieties.

Massages are also a great way to reduce stress and tension in the body, including the jaw muscles.

4. Avoid certain foods and increase others

Hard and sticky foods can directly impact the pain you feel in your jaw due to TMJ. When you need to exert a lot of force to chew a piece of food, you will put your jaw in the wrong position.

As stated before, chewing is top of that list with activities to stay away from, like yawning and yelling.

Avoid foods that are hard and crunchy, including large pieces of ice.

Chewing gum can also pose an issue since there is constant mastication occurring.

Start eating soft foods like mashed potatoes, yogurt, pudding, beans, etc., so chewing is minimal.

5. Utilize over-the-counter medications

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) help alleviate pain and swelling in an individual’s muscles.

These medications are usually over-the-counter, like naproxen or ibuprofen, but depending on pain, your dentist may be able to prescribe you a higher dose.

Alongside muscle relaxants, you could also be prescribed medications to help relieve stress to help with the clenching and grinding to ease anxiety. But, again, speak with your doctor about your options depending on your pain level.

How long does it take to cure TMD?

There is no defined cure or timeline for resolving symptoms of TMD (temporomandibular joint disorder), as durations depend greatly on the underlying cause and severity. However, with proper treatment most patients find effective relief within 6-12 months.

In the short term, non-invasive treatments focused on pain relief, joint mobilization, anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, or bite splints can ease discomfort significantly within the first 1-3 months already.

Longer-lasting TMD reduction relies on addressing contributory issues like teeth grinding and arthritis through night guards, occlusal adjustment, surgery, injections, stress relief practices, etc. Improvement accelerates by minimizing strain to the TMJ area once destabilizing factors are corrected.

While some minor symptoms can linger long-term or resurface if destructive habits resume, dedicated TMD therapy brings most patients significant restoration of normal jaw/chewing function within a year. Sustained improvement is observable as muscle function stabilizes, inflammation resolves and the bite stabilizes.

With tailored treatment plans closely monitored and adjusted as needed, patients find their healing trajectories highly personalized. However substantial gains are achievable once destabilizing forces are corrected.

Does TMD / TMJ show up on an X-ray?

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Yes, signs of temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD/TMJ) can potentially show up on certain x-ray images, though it depends on the type and severity of damage. Here are some key points:

  • Standard dental X-rays usually won’t reveal TMD directly. However, they may uncover contributing factors like inadequate bites.
  • Panoramic X-rays give general information about the joint anatomy but limited detail on soft tissues.
  • CT scans provide intricate 3D views enabling clear visibility of bone surfaces, positioning of discs, and fluid levels.
  • MRI scans best diagnose soft tissue inflammation issues like capsulitis, disc position/health, and ligament strains.
  • Radiologists can identify arthritic changes like degradation of cartilage and bone spurs from imaging.

So in summary, while dental X-rays have minimal diagnostic value for spotting early-stage TMD, advanced CT and MRI allow clearer visibility of anatomical abnormalities, asymmetry, and tissue damage helping guide appropriate treatment courses.

Does TMD / TMJ make your chin look longer?

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Yes, moderate to severe cases of temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD/TMJ) can sometimes make your chin look longer or more pronounced.

Here’s why:

As the jaw joint degenerates and becomes dysfunctional, the alignment between the upper and lower teeth frequently worsens. When back molars no longer meet properly, front teeth over-close to make up for gaps in the back.

This excessive vertical extension of the lower jaw necessary to have the opposing back teeth barely meet gives the appearance of a more exaggerated, protruded chin. It’s the lower jaw extending downward and forward more than usual to find a point of precarious occlusion amidst joint deterioration.

In effect, bite collapse from unchecked TMD literally lengthens facial height. As misalignment progresses uncorrected, the lips have increased difficulty meeting as well which further stretches chin tissue downward.

Re-establishing harmonious occlusion through techniques like bite splints or selective teeth removal relieves strain which may reverse chin elongation to some degree over time as bite stability returns.

What could be the issue ENT (ear, nose, and throat) or dental or TMD / TMJ?

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Differentiating between ENT, dental, and TMD/TMJ sources can be challenging when patients experience overlapping face, jaw or headache symptoms.

Here are tips to uncover the likely primary issue:

  • Chronic jaw/chewing pain worsening when eating highly suggests TMD dysfunction
  • Localized tooth pain triggered by hot/cold points to dental causes
  • Difficulty opening jaw widely or locks/catches indicates TMD joint mechanics
  • Persistent bad breath or pus with gum swelling signals dental/periodontal disease
  • Frequent sinus congestion/infections and postnasal drips related to ENT causes
  • Headaches predominantly on one side likely arise from that side’s TMD or teeth issues
  • Fluctuating hissing, ringing, dripping, or fullness in one ear may indicate Eustachian tube dysfunction (ENT)

While connections exist between ears, dental occlusion, and jaw joints, targeted symptoms provide clues to primary offenders. But comprehensive evaluations with a team of specialists teasing apart contributions are essential, as advanced multidisciplinary care achieves the best patient outcomes long term.

How to tell the difference between TMJ and arthritis?

There are some distinct differences in symptoms and exam findings that help differentiate between TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorders versus types of inflammatory arthritis affecting the jaw joint areas:

TMD / TMJ Dysfunction Signs
  • Pain worsens with chewing or mouth-opening activities
  • Locking of jaw open/closed
  • Clicking, popping, or grinding noises
  • Dental occlusion changes like overbite or underbite
  • Jaw tension, tiredness muscle soreness
Arthritis symptoms
  • Persistent pain without clear triggering actions
  • Swelling and tenderness concentrated over joints
  • Redness observed over joints
  • Morning joint stiffness is common
  • Fevers, fatigue, and rashes indicating immune activity

While some findings occasionally overlap, the location of discomfort, the exacerbating and relieving factors, the presence of fever/swelling/inflammation, and timing pain patterns all help guide appropriate diagnosis – either TMJ issues or inflammatory arthritis.

Specialized testing like joint fluid analysis and imaging also facilitates correct treatment.

What should I look for in a TMD / TMJ specialist?

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When seeking a specialist for treating temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD/TMJ), look for these key qualifications and traits:

1. Training and experience
  • Extensively trained in TMD diagnosis and management
  • Years of hands-on practice treating TMD patients
  • Continuing education in the latest technology and techniques
2. Holistic and individualized treatment planning
  • Assesses contributory factors like sleep disorders or poor posture
  • Designs customized care regimens based on unique symptoms
  • Collaborates across disciplines like physiotherapy and massageExtensively trained in TMD diagnosis and management
3. Strong communication skills
  • Patiently answers all questions
  • Explains anatomical dynamics contributing to your case
  • Guides you through options to determine best path
4. Care coordination
  • Helps manage insurance, referrals, and healthcare system navigation
  • Offers integrated, multi-therapy care under one roof when possible
5. Patient focus
  • Empathetic manner and active listening skills
  • Takes all symptomatic concerns seriously

A skilled TMD specialist conducts a thorough examination of underlying factors and customizes treatment plans based on individual requirements, acting as a consultant rather than merely a technician.

What is a TMD / TMJ Specialist called?

A TMD / TMJ specialist is often called an orofacial pain specialist or temporomandibular disorder (TMD) specialist. Some other names they may go by include:

  • TMD/TMJ and Orofacial Pain Dentist
  • TMD and Jaw Disorder Dentist
  • Orofacial Pain Orthodontist
  • Temporomandibular Joint Specialist
  • Jaw Disorder Specialist
  • TMJ Physical Therapist
  • TMD Physical Therapist
  • TMJ Occupational Therapist
  • Craniofacial Pain Specialist

These all denote professionals who have advanced skills and focus specifically on evaluating and treating temporomandibular joint issues, jaw dysfunction, and face/head pain related to the mouth, jaws and skull structures.

In addition to complex TMD expertise, they incorporate wider anatomical perspectives of the cervical spine, nervous system pathways, and psychology around chronic pain. Addressing the multifactorial components of TMJ disorders requires expanded qualification.

Temporomandibular Joint Disorder is serious and painful. Speak with your dentist about your options, and be sure to implement the above into your daily routine.