A man holds his face, experiencing temporomandibular joint jaw pain

What is temporomandibular disorder?

Temporomandibular disorder (often abbreviated to TMD) is a condition that affects the movement and use of your jaw. It mainly affects the temporomandibular joints, which is where the temporal bone and the mandible (jaw) connect. The temporal bones are located on either side of the skull where your ears are, and reach up to your temples, which is where the bone gets its name from.[1]

What causes temporomandibular joint disorder?

There are many things that can cause TMD by putting strain on the temporomandibular joint. These can include, but are not limited to:

  • Teeth grinding (also known as bruxism)
  • Stress
  • An uneven bite
  • Head trauma, such as a blow to the face or head
  • Joint wear and tear
  • Arthritis

Anything that puts extra strain on the cartilage in the temporomandibular joint can cause a case of TMD, so you shouldn’t dismiss it just because you haven’t noticed any of the above causes. If you suspect you might have TMD, it’s a good idea to speak to your dentist about it as they can advise you on what you should do to try to limit or ease the symptoms.[1]

What are the symptoms of TMD?

One thing that can be very helpful in distinguishing TMD from generalised jaw pain or discomfort is to keep a symptom diary. Noting what you’re feeling, the severity of the symptom and how long it lasts for can give dentists a better picture of your condition. This can make it easier for them to determine the cause of your symptoms and suggest treatment plans.

The symptoms of TMD can include: 

  • Skeletal pain in your jaw, ear and/or temple
  • Popping, grinding or clicking noises when you move your jaw (either in both sides or just one)
  • A headache centred around your temples
  • Finding it difficult to fully open your mouth
  • Your jaw locking in an open position

In some cases, the pain caused by TMD may be worse when you are frequently moving your jaw, such as when eating or talking. It can also get worse when you feel stressed, particularly if you have a habit of grinding your teeth when stressed. 

Additionally, TMD can result in secondary symptoms such as insomnia, tension headaches, muscular jaw aches and more. You might feel reluctant to eat if this makes the pain worse, which can also cause problems.[1] 

How long does TMD last?

Usually, TMD is a short-term condition that goes away by itself or with measures to ease the stress on the temporomandibular joint. This can include resting the joint, wearing a mouth guard like DenTek’s Maximum Protection dental guard to protect your teeth and jaw or reducing stress in your day-to-day life. In the meantime, painkillers can be used to soothe the pain so you can get on with your daily activities unimpeded. 

If your TMD was caused by an injury or illness, such as a blow to the head or arthritis, then the symptoms should go away once the initial cause has been treated. Similarly, if the stress to your temporomandibular joint was caused by teeth grinding or clenching, then learning how to stop bruxism could help you to manage the condition and ease your TMD.

However, this isn’t always the case. TMD can sometimes become chronic – meaning the pain doesn’t go away. If your pain goes on indefinitely, lasting more than two weeks after it should reasonably have stopped, speak to your dentist to find out what you can do about it. Even if your TMD does go away, there is a chance that it will come back during times of stress, or with future injuries or illnesses.[1] 

Resources: 

[1] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/temporomandibular-disorder-tmd/

Neil Kotak
10/10/2022
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