Research Team Aims To Unlock Jaw and Face Pain Causes, Therapies

Research team aims to unlock jaw and face pain causes, therapies

Working with the support of a $2 million grant over five years from the National Institutes of Health, a diverse team of researchers hopes to demystify temporomandibular joint disorders and orofacial pain—and provide relief for sufferers.

The temporomandibular joints, called TMJ, are the joints and jaw muscles that make it possible to open and close your mouth, according to the American Dental Association. TMJ enable chewing, speaking and swallowing and include muscles and ligaments as well as the jaw bone. They also control the lower mandible, or jaw, as it moves forward, backward and side to side.  Any problem that prevents this complex system of muscles, ligaments, discs and bones from working properly may result in a painful TMJ disorder; possible causes include arthritis, dislocation, injury and other conditions.

The University of Michigan School of Dentistry leads the interdisciplinary team of faculty and research scientists that will work to deepen what researchers, dentists and other health care professionals already know about temporomandibular joint disorders and orofacial pain, or TMJD/OP, including how to effectively treat the disorders.

The aim of the research, a U-M School of Dentistry and U-M Medical School collaboration, is to develop new therapies to help patients, said Dr. Sunil Kapila, chair of the dental school’s Department of Orthodontics and Pediatric Dentistry. “The ultimate goal is to develop personalized therapies that meet each patient’s specific needs,” he said. 

The researchers will seek to discover therapies that can alleviate debilitating TMJD/OP by identifying specific factors that cause a person to be susceptible to the disorders, Dr. Kapila said. 

TMJD/OP affect some 10 million Americans, according the University of Michigan School of Dentistry in an announcement about the research on its website.

The American Dental Association has information about the temporomandibular joint and TMJD/OP on its consumer website MouthHealthy.org. Click the A-Z Topics section from the home page to access individual topics by alphabet.

© 2017 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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Top Ways To Alleviate TMD SYMPTOMS

While there is no single cure for TMD, there are different treatments that may reduce your symptoms dramatically. Your dentist may recommend one or more of the following:

  • Medication – trying to eliminate muscle spasm and pain by applying moist heat or taking medication, such as muscle relaxants, aspirin, other over-the-counter pain-relievers or anti-inflammatory drugs.

  • Wear a night guard – reduce the harmful effects of tooth clenching and grinding by wearing a night guard or splint.

  • Relax – learning relaxation techniques to help control muscle tension in the jaw. Your dentist may suggest you seek training or counseling to help eliminate stress.