The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research has stated that although nobody can be certain of the exact number, as many as 10 million people in the United States could suffer from temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders (TMD). This is a group of maladies that are commonly called “TMJ” and are characterized by pain and incorrect function of the jaw joint and the muscles associated with it. The severity of the condition varies widely depending on the patient. While some people are bothered by TMDs only occasionally or in cycles, others suffer significant pain on a regular basis when they have a jaw joint disorder.
Although there are many things that could cause TMJ, it is almost always difficult to pin down a single, definitive reason for the condition. We do know that there are a lot of things that can make TMJ worse. For example, lingering, high-level stress, bad nutrition and poor body alignment when working at a desk can take a bad situation to the next level. There are many instances of TMJ reported by people who work in uber-stress workplaces like stock exchange trading floors. Interestingly, many of these same people also suffer from grinding their teeth at night. Also, for some reason it seems that women are affected more than men by TMDs.
It’s important to determine whether a TMD is causing a serious disruption in your life. I you have occasional aches and pains in the area where your jaw connects to the side of our face, take note of how long the pain lasts. Is it something that goes away after a few days? Can you associate it with a period where you took particularly bad care of yourself, burning the candle at both ends? And does it disappear after you get back to a normal schedule? Does the pain come at intervals or cycles and go back to normal afterward?
If any of the above sounds familiar, the problem is probably not a serious bout with a TMD. Also, if your jaw clicks or pops but doesn’t have a harsh accompanying pain, you also should worry too much about it. These sounds are actually quite common so if they don’t come with severe pain, you probably can treat the condition with Tylenol complimented by activities designed to reduce stress like upper body massages. Don’t forget to watch your diet and, of course, if you do smoke, there isn’t any better time to quit than now.
If, on the other hand, you have continuous, nagging pain and stiffness such as:
• Pain that travels through the face, jaw or neck
• Stiff jaw muscles
• Limited movement or locking of the jaw
• Painful clicking or popping in the jaw
• A change in the way the upper and lower teeth fit together
…then you can safely assume that you need to check into what is happening.
Severe TMDs are miserable to live with and can end up becoming degenerative. If you have seen other doctors and have been told that you would need surgery to correct your condition, I strongly urge you to seek a qualified second opinion. Surgical procedures for curing TMDs have a very poor success rate and should be avoided if at all possible. So, what do we do to treat TMDs?
First, we assume that there is no catchall treatment that will help everyone. Treatment needs to be customized to each patient’s needs. With that said, our treatment usually begins with gentle therapies such as massage, heat and cold packs, and exercise, and may go on to incorporate mouthguards to prevent clenching and grinding, realignment of the teeth, and muscle relaxant medication.
If you need help determining if you have a real problem with a TMD, please contact us so we can get you the information you need.
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