Michael S. Saoud, DMD
201 Centennial Street P.O. Box 2503
La Plata, MD 20646
What is TMJ and TMD?
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD) is a term referring to a number of clinical problems involving the Temporomandibular Joints (TMJs) and associated muscles and structures of the jaw area. Several researchers have found clicking and popping noises in the jaw joints to be present in 40-60% of the general population. Considering that normal, healthy TMJs are completely silent at all times, the 40-60% figure is a rather staggering one to consider. Some patients with TMD have symptoms which degenerate into crippling chronic pain and limited jaw mobility. A National Institute of Health study indicates that over nine million Americans suffer from TMJ pain of some level on a regular basis.
What are the symptoms of TMD?
Pain about the face, head and neck regions
Clicking, popping, and or grating noises in the jaw joints
A limited ability to open the mouth wide or move it side-to-side
Frequent headaches, often around the temple area
Earaches, buzzing, or ringing noises in the ears
Deep pain in the jaw joint itself
Soreness or pain in the cheek area
A sudden inability to find a comfortable bite position
What are the Causes of TMD?
Long-term strain on the TMJs caused by a sleep pattern of chronic grinding an/or clenching of the teeth (bruxism). This may lead to permanent damage to the teeth and TMJs themselves.
Certain types of malocclusion (bad bites) can chronically overstress the TMJs and related structures every time the individual chews. This in turn can lead to TM joint damage.
Accidents involving direct or indirect trauma to the head, face, and/or neck.
Systemic diseases such as gout, lupus, scleroderma, and fibromyalgia.
Some other reasons for TMD are less identifiable and may result from a combination of small events such as lying against a partially strained or damaged (but previously asymptomatic) TMJ while sleeping.
How are TMJ Disorders Treated?
Initial treatment for TMJ disorder can range from resting the joints, switching to a soft diet and prescribed medication to stabilization of the joints through the use of a specially designed and custom-adjusted hard acrylic “bite splint,” that fits on the top of the teeth. This appliance, when properly designed, redistributes the stresses on the TMJs, and muscle system while specifically guarding and guiding certain joint movements.
Can I Just Buy a Mouth Guard at the Store and Treat this Problem Myself?
This is generally not advisable. These devices can put additional strain on the already damaged jaw joints. They may also cause an individual to grind their teeth even more at night and thus worsen the symptoms.
Do dentists need special training to treat TMD?
Unfortunately, most dental schools do not have the time to properly train dental students. Significant post graduation learning is essential. The diagnosis and treatment of TMJ disorders is best done by dentists who have advanced training in TMD and experience with it.