What is temporomandibular disorders?

Temporomandibular disorders (TMDs): Overview

Temporomandibular disorders (TMDs) are problems with the muscles and joints that connect your jaw to your skull. These problems cause pain when you talk, chew, swallow, or yawn. You may feel this pain on one or both sides.

TMDs are often caused by tight jaw muscles. The tightness can be caused by clenching or grinding your teeth.

Lowering stress may help relax your jaw and reduce your pain. Your doctor may suggest a dental splint. Splints can help protect the teeth from grinding and clenching.

You may be able to do some things at home to feel better. If that doesn't work for you, your doctor may prescribe medicine to help relax your muscles and control the pain.

Temporomandibular disorders (TMDs)

Temporomandibular disorders (TMDs) are jaw problems that cause pain when you talk, chew, swallow, or yawn. The most common cause is tight jaw muscles. This can be from clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth at night.

What happens when you have temporomandibular disorders (TMDs)?

What happens when you have a TMD varies depending on the reason for the muscle tension.

A one-time overuse injury (such as holding your mouth open for a long time during a dental exam) may go away without treatment.

Ongoing (chronic) muscle tension (such as stress, a jaw injury, or grinding teeth during sleep) may be relieved by treatment. If chronic muscle tension isn't treated, it may change the joint structure over time or lead to osteoarthritis.

TMDs caused by problems in the structure of the jaw joint may respond well to early treatment. They may get worse without treatment.

What are the symptoms of temporomandibular disorders (TMDs)?

TMDs can affect the jaw and jaw joint as well as muscles in the face, shoulder, head, and neck. Common symptoms include joint pain in the face, muscle pain in the face, earaches, headaches, joint sounds, trouble with fully opening the mouth, and the jaw locking.

How are temporomandibular disorders (TMDs) treated?

The focus of treatment is to ease pain in the jaw joint and restore jaw movement. Using techniques to relax your muscles and manage stress may also help, such as cognitive behavior therapy and acupuncture.

Dental splints may be used. Splints are often pieces of plastic that fit between the upper and lower teeth. They help protect the teeth from grinding and clenching.

Physical therapy can help if your symptoms are caused by tight muscles. Physical therapy can help you stretch and release tight muscles and scar tissue.

Your doctor may suggest medicines. In some cases, the doctor may inject numbing medicine into the spot that hurts.

Most people don't need dental work or surgery. Surgery may be used if you have structural problems in your jaw joint.

Preventing temporomandibular disorders (TMDs)

Here are some ways you can reduce muscle tightness.

  • Try relaxation techniques.

    These may include taking slow, deep breaths and doing mindfulness meditation. Other practices, including progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, tai chi, and qi gong, may help.

  • Learn to recognize when you're clenching your teeth.

    Practice keeping your teeth apart. Bring them together only when swallowing or eating.

  • Try not to overuse your jaw muscles.

    Avoid chewing gum, biting your nails, or resting your chin on your hand.

  • Eat different foods.

    Try foods that are softer. Avoid hard or chewy foods, such as popcorn, apples, carrots, candy, hard breads, and bagels. Use both sides of your mouth to chew your food.

  • Practice good posture.

    This means that your ears, shoulders, and hips are in a straight line. Better posture may reduce pain by restoring the natural alignment of your facial bones and muscles.

How are temporomandibular disorders (TMDs) diagnosed?

Your doctor may do a physical exam and ask questions about your health. An X-ray, CT scan, or MRI may also be done. These tests can help check for bone or soft tissue problems related to symptoms of a TMD.

How can you care for yourself when you have a temporomandibular disorder (TMD)?

  • Put an ice pack or a warm, moist cloth on your jaw for 15 minutes. Do this several times a day. Try switching back and forth between moist heat and cold.
  • Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Choose softer foods, such as eggs, yogurt, soup, or pureed foods. Try to avoid hard foods. Cut food into small pieces.
  • If it doesn't cause pain, practice relaxing your jaw. Gently open and close your mouth. Move your jaw straight up and down. Do this for a few minutes every morning and evening. Watching yourself in a mirror can help.
  • Have good posture. Try to line up your ears, shoulders, and hips when sitting and standing.
  • Learn to manage your stress. Try:
    • Relaxation techniques. These may include taking slow, deep breaths, and mindful meditation. It may include progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, tai chi, and qi gong.
    • Getting at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days to relieve stress. Try walking.
  • Try not to:
    • Hold a phone between your shoulder and your jaw.
    • Open your mouth all the way, like when you sing loudly or yawn.
    • Clench or grind your teeth, bite your lips, or chew your fingernails.
    • Clench things between your teeth, such as pens, pipes, or cigars.

Why is physical therapy for temporomandibular disorders done?

Physical therapy:

  • Is frequently used in combination with medicine, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or muscle relaxants.
  • May be recommended if symptoms are not relieved with home treatment and are related to muscle tension.
  • Is used after surgery to promote healing and reduce pain and swelling.

Temporomandibular disorder (TMD): Areas of pain

Areas of pain from TMD, with detail of TM joint showing articular disc, muscle, and lower jawbone.

Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) causes pain in the muscles and joints that connect the lower jawbone (mandible) to the skull. These flexible muscles and joints are right in front of the ears. They are needed to talk, chew, swallow, and yawn.

Pain and tension in the muscles around the TM joint can cause tension in the muscles of the face, head, neck, and shoulders. Muscle tension may also cause headaches.

What are temporomandibular disorders (TMDs)?

Temporomandibular disorders (TMDs) are problems with jaw movement and pain in and around the jaw joints. This can cause pain when you talk, chew, swallow, yawn, or do other movements with your mouth or jaw. TMDs are also called TMJ or TM problems.

What causes temporomandibular disorders (TMDs)?

TMDs are caused by tight muscles, often triggered by stress. When you're stressed, you may be in the habit of clenching or grinding your teeth, chewing gum too often, or biting your nails. These habits can tire the jaw muscles and lead to a cycle of muscle spasms, tissue damage, pain, sore muscles, and more spasms.

TMDs can start when there's a problem with the joint itself, such as:

  • Scar tissue or bone damage caused by an injury to the jaw.
  • Problems with how the joint is shaped.
  • Joint diseases, such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Shifting of the articular disc that cushions the joint.
  • Tumors.

Temporomandibular disorder: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your jaw is locked open or shut or it is hard to move your jaw.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your jaw pain gets worse.
  • Your face is swollen.
  • You do not get better as expected.

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