Temporomandibular Disorder

Definition

Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is a painful condition in the joint that opens and closes the mouth. These temporomandibular joints are the small joints in front of each ear. They attach the lower jaw (mandible) to the skull. The disorder may affect the jaw joint or the muscles surrounding it. The disorder can include:

  • Damage to the joint surface or intra-articular disk
  • Displacement or complete dislocation of jaw bones
The Temporomandibular Joint
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Causes

The exact cause of TMD is often unclear. Possible causes include:

  • Injury of the jaw or face
  • Excess tension in the jaw muscles
  • Faulty alignment between the upper and lower teeth
  • Disturbed movement of the jaw joint
  • Displacement or abnormal position of the jaw joint or cartilage disc inside the jaw joint
  • Arthritis or similar inflammatory process in the joint
  • Excess or limited motion of the joint

Risk Factors

TMD is more common in women aged 30-50 years old. Other factors that increase your chance of TMD include:

Symptoms

TMD may cause:

  • Pain in the temporomandibular joint, jaw, or face
  • Pain may be worse with chewing, yawning, or opening the mouth
  • Clicking, popping, or grating sounds with movement of the jaw
  • A sensation of the jaw catching or locking briefly, while attempting to open or close the mouth, or while chewing
  • Difficulty opening the mouth completely
  • A bite that feels off, uncomfortable, or as though it is frequently changing
  • Headache
  • Earache
  • Neck pain

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The physical exam may include:

  • Range of motion of the jaw tests
  • Listening for sounds of popping or clicking in the temporomandibular joints
  • Visual inspection of your teeth, temporomandibular joints, and muscles of your face and head
  • Palpation of the joints and the muscles of the face and head

Tests may include:

  • X-rays
  • Arthrography—jaw movements videotaped with x-rays taken after dye is injected into the joint
  • MRI scan
  • CT scan

Treatment

Usually the least invasive measures will be tried first. Treatment may include:

Lifestyle Measures

  • Rest the jaw with a soft diet
  • Restrict movement with smaller bites, avoiding wide yawning, and gum chewing
  • Apply ice or heat packs for pain relief
  • Gentle jaw stretching and exercises

Medications

The most commonly used medications include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Antidepressants

Some medication may be injected into the jaw such as:

  • Pain relievers, such as cortisone or lidocaine
  • Botulinum toxin (Botox)—may offer temporary relief if pain or clicking are major symptoms

Physical Therapy

To help reduce pain and allow muscles to relax:

  • Gentle massage or stretching exercises
  • Gentle strengthening exercises or muscle balance exercises to retain alignment
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)

Stress Reduction

Some may benefit from counseling to learn stress management and relaxation techniques, such as:

Dental Procedures

A splint or mouth guard can be made to relax your jaw muscles. This will prevent clenching and grinding of your teeth. The guard is usually worn at night. Correction of bite abnormalities by a dentist or orthodontist is sometimes needed.

Surgical Procedures

Surgical correction is a last resort. Many of the available procedures have not been well-studied for their effectiveness.

Prevention

There are no current guidelines to prevent TMD.

Revisions

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This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

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