Your temporomandibular joints (TMJ), located where your lower jaw meets the skull, play an essential role in nearly every mouth function. It’s nearly impossible to eat or speak without them.
Likewise, jaw joint disorders (temporomandibular joint disorders or TMD) can make your life miserable. Not only can you experience extreme discomfort or pain, your ability to eat certain foods or speak clearly could be impaired.
But don’t assume you have TMD if you have these and other symptoms — there are other conditions with similar symptoms. You’ll need a definitive diagnosis of TMD from a qualified physician or dentist, particularly one who’s completed post-graduate programs in Oral Medicine or Orofacial Pain, before considering treatment.
If you are diagnosed with TMD, you may then face treatment choices that emanate from one of two models: one is an older dental model based on theories that the joint and muscle dysfunction is mainly caused by poor bites or other dental problems. This model encourages treatments like orthodontically moving teeth, crowning problem teeth or adjusting bites by grinding down tooth surfaces.
A newer treatment model, though, has supplanted this older one and is now practiced by the majority of dentists. This is a medical model that views TMJs like any other joint in the body, and thus subject to the same sort of orthopedic problems found elsewhere: sore muscles, inflamed joints, strained tendons and ligaments, and disk problems. Treatments tend to be less invasive or irreversible than those from the dental model.
The newer model encourages treatments like physical therapy, medication, occlusive guards or stress management. The American Association of Dental Research (AADR) in fact recommends that TMD patients begin their treatment from the medical model rather than the dental one, unless there are indications to the contrary. Many studies have concluded that a majority of patients gain significant relief with these types of therapies.
If a physician or dentist recommends more invasive treatment, particularly surgery, consider seeking a second opinion. Unlike the therapies mentioned above, surgical treatments have a spotty record when it comes to effectiveness — some patients even report their conditions worsening afterward. Try the less-invasive approach first — you may find improvement in your symptoms and quality of life.
If you would like more information on treating TMD, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Seeking Relief from TMD.”