The temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders (TMD) are a collection of health problems that cause pain and dysfunction of the joint located in the jaw and the muscles that surround it. It is hard to determine just how many people suffer from this condition; however, estimates fall in the 10 million range for those living in the USA. Women seem to get it more often than men.
TMD does not usually indicate a serious problem when it occurs, and it is often temporary and may occur in cycles. In many cases, the pain goes away without any specific care. However, some people do develop a significant, long-term problem.
Researchers seem to be puzzled as to why TMD occurs and just how to care for it properly. Scientific evidence has not provided us with any proven answers. Because of that, it is important you do not undergo any type of procedure that will change your bite or your jaw. Rather, we will discuss a safe way to find relief later on in this article.
What Is the Temporomandibular Joint?
This joint connects the lower jaw (mandible) with the bone on the side of your head (the temporal bone). To find out just where this is, place your fingers just in front of your ears and then open your mouth. What you feel there is the temporomandibular joint. These joints are flexible, allowing the jaw to move smoothly up and down and from side to side. This lets us talk, chew, and yawn. The muscles that are located around the jaw control its position and movement.
Upon opening your mouth, the rounded ends of the lower jaw (condyles) slide along the joint socket bone. When you close your mouth, they slide back into their original position. For this process to happen smoothly, a soft disc is located between the condyle and temporal bone. This acts as a shock absorber for the jaw from chewing and other actions.
The temporomandibular joint is not like the other joints of the body. It is one of the most complicated due to the motion of the hinge and sliding. This adds another challenge to caring for it as it has such a different make-up for the purpose of controlling the muscles of the jaw.
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What Are the Disorders Related to TMD?
Problems of the jaw and chewing muscles are different for each person coping with them. There are three major categories that these can be placed in:
- Internal derangement of the joint — due to a dislocated jaw, injury to the condyle, or a displaced disc
- Arthritis — degenerative or inflammatory joint disorders that can negatively impact the temporomandibular joint
- Myofascial pain — pain or discomfort in the muscles that control jaw function
You can experience more than one of these at the same time and some patients find themselves coping with other health problems as well. These can include fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and sleep issues. Interestingly, these disorders share some symptoms in common, suggesting they may be connected to an underlying problem.
Arthritis is a form of rheumatic disease. This can affect the temporomandibular joint as a secondary condition. Rheumatic disease includes a large number of conditions that cause inflammation, pain, and stiffness in the joints, bones, and muscles. The tissue that lines the joints can be involved with TMJ and arthritis, too.
It is not known exactly how joint and muscle disorders progress. Of course, symptoms worsen over time, but no one knows exactly why. Most forms of TMD are mild and the symptoms may improve on their own or go away completely within a week or a few months. Others see the condition persist with no end in sight.
Symptoms of TMD
Most often the symptoms of TMD are pain in the jaw joint when chewing. Other symptoms may include:
- Pain that radiates in the face, jaw, or neck
- Painful grating, popping, or clicking in the jaw when opening and closing the mouth
- Locking of the jaw or limited movement
- A change in how the upper and lower teeth align
- Stiffness in the jaw muscles
Suggestions to Ease the Pain of TMD
There are some things you can do to help with the pain of TMD. It is important to not let the condition get worse because it is possible for it to clear up on its own. Here are some ideas to keep the pain under control:
- Eat soft foods for a few days so as not to stress the jaw
- Avoid opening the jaw too wide, such as loud singing and yawning
- Avoid overusing the jaw, such as when chewing gum
- Practice methods to relax and reduce stress
- Apply ice packs
- Practice gentle jaw stretching and relaxing exercise to increase jaw movement and tone muscles.
The Natural Option for TMD
If your TMD is not improving, it may be time for you to consult a professional. Here at Symmetry Health Chiropractic Center in Cedar Park, Texas, we have been able to assist our TMD patients by focusing on the bones of the upper cervical spine. The C1 bone, in particular, can be causing a problem in the jaw if it has moved out of alignment. It can be pulling the muscles of the face and neck in an attempt to correct the problem. This can lead to the symptoms of TMD.
We use a gentle method that encourages the bones to move back into place without the need to force them or crack the spine. Once the bones realign, the muscles and tissue can begin to repair themselves, and many patients have seen an improvement in or end to their TMD symptoms.
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