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Dealing with TMJ Disorders

Your treatment options if you have Temporomandibular Disorders
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Temporomandibular disorders are a group of problems that cause pain and poor function in the jaw joint and the muscles responsible for jaw movement. They're also called TMD, or TMJ (short for temporomandibular joint) disorders.

TMD can be just a nuisance -- or it can be a life-altering problem. When it's less severe, crunching down on a hard bit of food can shoot a bolt of pain through the jaw joint -- unpleasant, to be sure, but not serious. With time and simple home care, the pain usually subsides.

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But with severe TMD, simple tasks, such as eating or talking, can no longer be taken for granted. “It can be incredibly debilitating,” says Matthew J. Messina, DDS, a dentist in Cleveland and a spokesman for the American Dental Association.

For some people, the disc within the jaw joint slips out of position during sleep, he says. “All of a sudden, they’ll wake up in the morning and they can’t open their mouth more than 10 millimeters and a normal opening is 50 millimeters or so. So imagine you’re trying to eat breakfast and you can’t open your mouth wide enough to get the toast in there. That can be very panicking.”

If you believe that you might have TMD, where do you start seeking help?

Signs of Trouble

When symptoms of TMD surface, they might include: 

  • Pain in the chewing muscles or jaw joint
  • Pain in the jaw, neck, or face
  • Stiff jaw muscles
  • A jaw that locks or has limited movement
  • Painful clicking, popping, or grating in the jaw joint
  • Changes in the fit between upper and lower teeth

TMD may affect more than 10 million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health. Women are affected more often than men.  

Who Treats TMD?

Usually, a dentist is the first health professional to consult, Messina and other experts tell WebMD. In fact, patients who experience popping, clicking, or pain in the jaw joint will often call their dentist first. 

To check for TMD, a dentist will ask about symptoms, take a medical and dental history, and examine the head, neck, face, teeth, and jaw.

But some people go to their primary care doctor if they have less obvious TMD symptoms, such as headaches, neck pain, ringing in the ear, or a sense of fullness in the ear that makes them suspect an ear infection, Messina says.

Although oral and maxillofacial surgeons are trained in TMD, most patients don’t go to an oral surgeon first unless they have a locking problem with their jaw, Messina says. “Either their jaw is locking open or locking closed. Sometimes, they’ll seek a surgeon out first because they’ve self-diagnosed their problem as being extremely severe,” he says.

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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