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Temporomandibular Joint Disorders

TMJMost of the time, patients visit their dentists when they have problems with their teeth and gums, but did you know that your dentist takes care of your jaw as well? For example, many patients who experience problems with their temporomandibular joint (the jaw joint) are referred to their dentist for treatment. Dr. Allen Gotora from Stellar Dental, for one, offers a variety of potential treatment options for patients with jaw joint pain in Maryland.

What are temporomandibular joint disorders?

As mentioned above, the temporomandibular joint is the joint that connects your jaw to your skull, which means that temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) are problems that affect this jaw joint. This definition may sound somewhat vague, but that’s because TMD can describe a variety of situations in which the jaw, the joint itself, or the muscles in the face are affected.

What Causes TMD?

The ambiguity surrounding the syndrome means that the causes of TMD are difficult to isolate as well. Unlike with many other oral health problems, there isn’t just one reason why TMD may develop, but, rather, a combination of factors. In general, temporomandibular joint problems develop when a patient:

  • Has sustained injuries to the jaw, the jaw joint, or other parts of the head or neck (possibly from a hard blow or a bad fall): Physical injury is one of the most common ways in which TMD develops. Your face and mouth are a delicate system, even expected pressure could cause bone problems to appear unexpectedly. Thus, if you experience some of the symptoms of TMD after a traumatic injury, you should see Dr. Gotora immediately to make sure any problems are treated as soon as possible.

  • Regularly grinds or clenches his or her teeth (putting pressure on the joint): Bruxism (teeth grinding) is often an unconscious behavior, but patients who grind or clench their teeth while sleeping can experience jaw joint problems as well as those who experience tooth-related ones. If you’ve noticed a strange soreness in your jaw when you wake up or a slight headache, you might be grinding your teeth without realizing it. You should visit a dentist to see if you display any other symptoms of bruxism or TMD.

  • Has developed arthritis in the jaw joint: Arthritis typically affects the extremities (fingers and toes) first, but it’s not impossible for it to affect the temporomandibular joint. If you know you are particularly susceptible to arthritis and experience some tightness and tenderness around the area when you yawn, speak or chew, you should visit Dr. Gotora just to make sure there are no actual underlying problems.

  • Has experienced a dislocation or other unusual movement in the joint: Dislocated jaws unfortunately aren’t as uncommon as we might like to think. If you ever dislocate or otherwise injure your jaw, you should visit the emergency room to get it readjusted immediately. If you still experience TMD symptoms afterwards, though, you should see Dr. Gotora so he can monitor those symptoms and recommend treatments to help the jaw heal.

Depending on the exact cause and symptoms a patient experiences, treatment options will differ. Dentists have a variety of tools on hand that could be used to treat temporomandibular joint disorders, and prescriptions will differ depending on the exact situation.

For example, if the TMD is caused by an injury in the jaw, simple pain relievers may be enough to comfort the patient and allow the joint to heal on its own. On the other hand, TMD stemming from a blow to the jaw may warrant physical therapy or even surgery to completely fix. Lifestyle changes could be a potential treatment option as well. Patients who develop problems in the jaw joint as the result of bruxism (teeth grinding) could alleviate the pressure placed on the joint by wearing a special mouthguard that can prevent unconscious grinding from occurring or simply reduce the effect on the jaw. Everything depends on the patient’s specific problem, and only a dentist can prescribe the appropriate treatment.

What are common symptoms of TMD?

Even though temporomandibular joint disorders may come in a variety of different forms, the symptoms that characterize TMD are generally somewhat similar. Most of the time, patients with TMD experience some of the following symptoms:

  • A “locking” sensation in the joint when opening the mouth in the certain way;
  • Clicking, popping, or grating sounds in the jaw when chewing or speaking;
  • A grating sensation when chewing, yawning or speaking;
  • Resistance or pain when chewing or speaking;
  • Inability to open the mouth wide, particularly while yawning;
  • Soreness in the jaw after chewing or speaking;
  • Pain or tenderness in the jaw;
  • Swelling in the side of the face;
  • Pain in or around the ear that can radiate into the temple;
  • Aching pain in the face;
  • Toothaches, headaches, earaches, or neck aches; and/or,
  • Shoulder pain.

Again, because the causes of TMD can be so different, the observed symptoms could vary between patients as well. This is one of the reasons jaw joint problems are so hard to distinguish on your own. Only a qualified dentist can properly diagnose and prescribe treatments for TMD.

Therefore, if you do experience one or even a few of the symptoms described above, you should visit a dentist immediately to get professional advice about how to proceed. Dr. Allen Gotora from Stellar Dental in Maryland, for example, is always happy to discuss treatment options with patients. Just call (301) 754-1900 or visit our website to set up an appointment today!