If you’re living with temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD, you know that it often means pain. That pain can disrupt your day-to-day life and even affect your sleep. You may have tried a variety of treatments to relieve the pain, but nothing seems to work, and you’re hesitant to try orthodontic braces to treat your jaw problem.
That’s OK. There’s an alternative to braces as a treatment for TMD.
What Is TMD?
The temporomandibular joint is made up of two bones: the mandible and the temporal bone. Ligaments and muscles connect them. When these connective tissues become inflamed or injured, they cause problems in the joints between the upper and lower jaws. This condition is called temporomandibular joint disorder, which includes three main types of symptoms:
Pain: This is the most common symptom of TMD. It’s usually felt on one side of the face, behind the ear and sometimes in the teeth.
Clicking: A clicking sound when opening and closing the mouth.
Headaches: Pressure from the inflamed tissue irritates the nerves that supply blood flow to the brain, causing headaches.
How Common Is TMD?
According to the American Academy of Orofacial Pain, approximately 10 to 15 percent of people experience some form of TMD.
What Causes TMD?
The exact cause of TMD is unknown. However, certain factors put you more at risk than others. Some of them include:
Genetics. If both parents have TMD, there is a 50/50 chance that their child will too.
Gender. Women tend to develop TMD much earlier than men do.
Age. As we get older, our bodies begin to wear down. Our muscles weaken, and our joints loosen.
Bite issues. People who grind their teeth or clench their jaw muscles while sleeping are more likely to develop TMD.
Stress. Stressful situations such as job loss, divorce, moving, the death of a loved one or other life events can all contribute to stress.
Smoking. Smoking has been linked to TMD.
Diet. Poor nutrition can also lead to TMD.
Other medical conditions. Conditions like arthritis, diabetes, thyroid disorders and fibromyalgia can increase your chances of developing TMD.
Treatment Options for TMD
There are many different ways to treat TMD. Some patients wear custom-made dental appliances like bite splints, while others opt for more conservative approaches such as physical therapy, acupuncture and/or medication.
Self-care treatment for TMD includes :
Resting the jaw. Take breaks throughout the day so you don’t overwork your jaw muscles.
Avoid clenching your jaw. Clenching your jaw puts extra strain on your jaw muscles and may make your symptoms worse.
Use ice packs. Ice packs help reduce inflammation and swelling.
Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Both medications can help ease your pain.
Try heat therapy. Heat therapy helps relax tight muscles and relax sore areas.
Unfortunately, self-care treatments for TMD only bring temporary relief; they cannot cure the problem. To permanently relieve your symptoms, you need to see a dentist.
Braces for TMD
Orthodontics is another option for treating TMD. Orthodontists use braces to move the jaw into its correct position and relieve strain on the jaw joints. But not everyone wants braces, because they’re not exactly discreet.
Don’t Want Braces for TMD?
Fortunately, advances in modern dentistry have brought additional ways to treat TMD that do not involve braces. One option is oral appliance therapy.
It’s called occlusal splint therapy, or OST. It’s a noninvasive treatment option that uses custom-made mouth guards to protect your teeth from grinding against each other when you bite down. Patients wear these mouth guards to help reduce the pressure on their temporomandibular joint by keeping the lower jaw in place while they sleep. This helps prevent painful symptoms associated with TMD.
These appliances are worn during the day and removed before bedtime. They’re comfortable, easy to wear and very effective. In addition, studies show that OST reduces the frequency of headaches, muscle tension and migraines among those suffering from TMD.
Some individuals also wear appliances at night to prevent tooth grinding and stress on the jaw during sleep. These appliances may include a night guard, a thin plastic device that fits inside your mouth and prevents contact between your upper and lower teeth. Night guards are typically used to treat bruxism, but it can also be helpful for people with TMD.
The Signs of TMD
TMD symptoms include:
- Painful clicking sounds in the ear
- Difficulty chewing food
- Facial pain
- Soreness in the neck
- Numbness in the face
- Muscle spasms
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, call us now to schedule a consultation.