Temporomandibular joint disorder; what is TMD?

Do you suffer from regular headaches, ranging from minor to severe? Do you get regular neck and shoulder pain, often feeling a clicking or popping sensation in the jaw? Perhaps you suffer from a degree of hearing loss or ear pain. Do you regularly get sensitive or sore teeth, but without cavities or signs of damage? Is it tricky to open and close your mouth and do you experience painful chewing when reaching the end of a long meal? If any of this sounds familiar, you could well be a sufferer of temporomandibular joint disorder.

What are the causes of TMJ disorders?

This collection of symptoms is not actually caused by a single disorder, but many disorders which always have the same origin; misaligned teeth. It is usually experienced by adults who did not receive the orthodontic care they required earlier in life. In order to cope with this misalignment, you chew and eat differently. This puts pressure on muscle groups that over time, become strained and tense resulting in the symptoms mentioned above. Without treatment, these issues become more and more disruptive until they can be genuinely debilitating.

When you have these symptoms, taken by themselves and explored, they often result in diagnostic dead ends. For instance, the pain in the neck which has no apparent reason can be cause for pain relief to be prescribed. The chronic headaches which are apparently without reason, such as pressure or issues with blood glucose can lead to an MRI, after which there would be no obvious cause. The tooth pain occurring in teeth which are otherwise healthy and undamaged can also create a puzzle for dental teams. For many patients, it can take quite a while before the symptoms are seen in a more holistic way pointing to the issue of dental misalignment.

TMJ

Treatment

The good news is that adult orthodontic treatment is now more common than ever and most dental clinics will offer solutions to dental misalignments. These don’t have to involve using the traditional metal braces and can often involve clear aligners like Invisalign St Albans.

But if the temporomandibular joints (the name of the two joints either side of your head and on you lower jaw to the upper jaw) are currently flaring up and causing the appearance of the aforementioned symptoms you can alleviate them in the short term, by applying hot or cold packs to the side of the head and exclusively eating soft foods. This is only a short-term solution whilst you seek a more permanent one. Untreated, TMD can cause arthritis like inflammation in this joint, severely restricting your ability to eat.

People who suffer from TMJ pain often engage in night-time teeth grinding as an attempt to try to realign their jaw, but this can also exacerbate symptoms. The use of an orthopaedic mouthguard can be very useful in managing symptoms and will also stop the erosion to your enamel.

If you are concerned, get in contact with your local dentist in order to receive a diagnosis and begin some form of treatment as soon as possible, to limit progression of TMD and minimise long-term problems with your teeth and jaw.

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