TMJ Diagnosis: What You Need to Know

Your dentist has diagnosed your clicking, popping or painful jaw as TMD, but what does that mean? Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is a condition that affects the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which is where the jaw connects to the skull, just in front of the ears. Before arriving at a TMJ diagnosis, dentists examine the jaw joints, ask the patient about their symptoms and may conduct other tests.

Temporomandibular Joint

The temporomandibular joint connects the jaw to the skull on each side of the head, allowing you to move your jaw up and down, backward and forward and from side to side. The joint is formed from a small protrusion at the top of the jaw that sits against an indentation in the skull, and a cartilage disc that sits between each bone. Also, ligaments from the neck and head hold the joint together, and some of these ligaments are attached to muscles in the jaw. As a result, the TMJ is highly flexible and is used to chew, speak and yawn. However, sometimes the joint can become misaligned, inflamed or otherwise painful or restricted in movement.

What Causes TMD?

Fractures, displaced discs, and teeth grinding and clenching are some causes of TMD. If either of the bones of the joint fracture, the surrounding area swells and becomes painful. Similarly, if the cartilage disc between the bones moves out of its place, swelling and discomfort may result. What's more, if the upper and lower teeth are misaligned, teeth grinding and clenching can excessively stress the TMJ and cause painful symptoms. More rarely, arthritis is the cause of TMD.

TMD Symptoms

Pain in the jaw joints isn't the only symptom of TMD. Patients may also experience earaches, headaches and pain elsewhere in the face and neck. Other symptoms include clicking noises, restricted movement when opening and closing the mouth, and frequent locking of the jaw, lists theMayo Clinic. If opening the mouth wide is difficult, consider adding a mouthwash to your oral hygiene routine. Colgate Total Advanced Health mouthwash removes 24x more bacteria for a healthier mouth and kills 99 percent of germs on contact.

TMJ Diagnosis

Dentists listen to the patient's history of symptoms and ask other questions to arrive at a TMD diagnosis. They might also ask if the patient is currently under a lot of stress and what medications or supplements they are taking.

According to the Mayo Clinic, dentists examine, listen to and feel the jaw when it opens and closes, and check the range of movement as well as any painful sites. In addition, dentists may order dental X-rays, a CT scan or MRI to observe the bones and the position of the disc. Finally, an operation called an arthroscopy may be required, where the surgeon inserts a small camera into the joint to observe it.

A TMJ diagnosis can be a relief after months or years of problems and discomfort. Treatment can begin and your symptoms should start to ease. If your jaw joints are painful and you find it difficult to open your mouth or find that your jaw locks easily, speak to your dentist right away and schedule an appointment.

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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.