During a routine dental check-up you might wonder why your dentist will ask you to open and close your mouth. The dentist is checking your jaw and facial muscles for proper functioning and for a condition known as temporomandibular disorder or TMD, which is often referred to as TMJ after the temporomandibular joint.

Those suffering from TMD may experience a number of symptoms and can differ per person.

These include pain or tenderness in the face, jaw joint area, neck and shoulders or around the ear when chewing. Also, pain when speaking or opening the mouth wide; problems opening the mouth wide; clicking, popping or grating sounds when you open or close your mouth or chew; a tired feeling in your face; swelling on the side of your face; or trouble chewing or a sudden uncomfortable bite or feeling as if the upper and lower teeth are not fitting together properly.3

Rest assured, however, that jaws often make clicking sounds, so if you don’t have pain or limited jaw movement, you probably do not have TMD.

Causes of TMD

While trauma from a sports injury, fall or car accident are some obvious causes of TMD, researchers and the medical and dental communities do not have any definitive and universally accepted causes for TMD.4 Hormones are being investigated as a cause, as more females than males have the condition. Some clinicians believe other causes of TMD include grinding or clenching your teeth; arthritis in the joint; movement of the soft cushion or disc between the ball and socket of the joint; and stress which can cause you to tighten facial and jaw muscles or clench your teeth.5

Many conditions can cause facial pain besides TMD. These include common issues such as tooth infections, gum disease, sinus infections, ear infections, nerve-related facial pain and even some types of headaches. If you have persistent TMD symptoms, inform your dentist.

How does the dentist check for TMD?

Your dentist will do a physical examination of your jaw, looking for pain and tenderness and listening for clicks, pops or grating sounds. The dentist will also make sure the jaw doesn’t lock and will test your bite for problems with your facial muscles. To aid in his assessment, the dentist may take full face X-rays or order further testing such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computer tomography (CT) scans. Your dentist may also refer you to an oral or maxillofacial surgeon or orthodontist for further evaluation and treatment or may recommend that you consult with your physician to rule out common conditions which may be causing your symptoms. There is no widely accepted, standard test currently available to diagnose TMJ disorders.6

Treatment options

Experts recommended that TMD patients use the most conservative, reversible treatment possible to alleviate their symptoms, noting that even with persistent symptoms most patients do not need aggressive types of treatment.7 These conservative treatments include taking over the counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as naproxen or ibuprofen; using moist heat or cold packs; eating soft foods; avoiding extreme jaw movements such as yawning or chewing gum or ice, yelling or singing; practicing good posture, avoiding resting your chin on your hand or holding a phone between your shoulder and ear; keeping your teeth slightly apart to relieve pressure on your jaw; and learning relaxation techniques.8

Dentists can provide oral splints or mouth guards to prevent TMD patients from clenching their teeth while they sleep. Correcting bite problems may also be necessary. There are a host of other therapies available for TMD sufferers, but your dentist will recommend that you start with the conservative treatments first then examine other options and what is best for you.

Our Walled Lake Dental Office has a staff that is committed the long-term oral health for each and every patient. Dr. Hechtman has over 40 years’ experience in dental care and stays current with the newest techniques by making continuing education a priority. Offering the latest technology in modern dentistry, our dental clinic in Walled Lake offers a personalized experience which includes general and restorative dentistry, dental treatments and cosmetic dentistry to meet the smile needs of the entire family. Call our office today for a Free Dental Consultation!