What is TMJ/TMD?

Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD)

Millions of Americans suffer from chronic facial and neck pain as well as recurring headaches. In some cases, this pain is due to Temporomandibular Disorder, or TMD.

Your temporomandibular joints (TMJ) connect your lower jawbone to your skull. These joints get a lot of use throughout the day as you speak, chew, swallow, and yawn. Pain in and around these joints can be unpleasant and may even restrict movement.

What Causes TMJ Pain?

In many cases, jaw pain may be caused by bruxism – which is excessive grinding, gnashing, or clenching together of your teeth. This can occur while you’re awake or asleep. If you have already been diagnosed with a sleep disorder such as snoring or sleep apnea, you may be also be clenching and grinding your teeth in your sleep and this can lead to the jaw pain associated with TMD.

If you have ever watched a professional weight lifter clench their jaws together as they attempt to hoist a heavy barbell over their head, you have seen an extreme example of bruxism that can occur during waking hours. Although most of us do clench our jaws together in times of stress, anxiety, or heavy concentration, this mild bruxism generally does not require any treatment. However, frequent or severe bruxism can lead to TMJ problems, headaches, or even damaged teeth and will require an evaluation by our office.

Symptoms of TMD Include:

  • Pain in the jaw area
  • Pain, ringing, or stuffiness in the ears
  • Frequent headaches or neck aches
  • Clicking or popping sound when the jaw moves
  • Swelling on the sides of the face
  • Muscle spasms in the jaw area
  • A change in the alignment of top and bottom teeth
  • Locked jaw or limited opening of the mouth

TMD Treatment

At Dr. Brian Cox Dentistry, we take a conservative approach to treating TMD because many disorders can be resolved with simple at home solutions. When a patient does come to our office with TMJ pain, we first do a throughout exam involving an evaluation of joints and occlusion in order to determine what treatment is necessary to correct the problem. In severe cases, treatment may require the use of TMD therapies such as orthodontics, restorations, equilibration, or appliance therapies.

The most important step in treating TMD is the proper diagnosis. All too often, TMD is misdiagnosed as arthritis or another degenerative joint disease, leading to a delay in proper treatment and frustration for the patient. Dr. Cox has taken specific continuing education courses on TMJ-TMD evaluation and treatment and is highly skilled at diagnosing TMJ problems.

There are also some simple steps you can take at home or work to prevent TMD from becoming more severe or to prevent it from occurring in the first place:

  • Relax your face — remember the rule: “Lips together, teeth apart”
  • Avoid grinding your teeth
  • Avoid constant gum chewing
  • Don’t cradle the phone receiver between your head and shoulder — either use a headset or hold the receiver in your hand
  • Chew food evenly on both sides of your mouth
  • Do not sit with your chin rested on your hand
  • Practice good posture — keep your head up, back straight, and shoulders squared