Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD): Signs, Symptoms, Treatment, and Self-Care

Woman rubbing her head in pain from TMJ disorder

If you frequently experience jaw pain, recurring headaches, or notice a clicking sound when you chew, it’s natural to wonder if you might be dealing with TMJ disorder. The TMJ is involved in a larger group of conditions known as TMD (Temporomandibular Disorder). TMD encompasses various conditions that affect the TMJ or Temporomandibular joint, the joint connecting your jawbone to your skull. These disorders can manifest in a range of symptoms.

In this post, we will tackle several frequently asked questions about TMJ disorder. Hopefully, we can address your question and help you get on the road to recovery and a better life. Let’s dive in.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of TMJ Disorder (TMD)?

These are the most common signs and symptoms to be aware of when diagnosing TMJ disorder:

  • Jaw pain: The most prevalent symptom, characterized by discomfort in the jaw, ear, face, or neck.
  • Chewing pain: Sensations of pain experienced while chewing food or when opening the mouth wide.
  • Locking: Occurs when the jaw becomes partially stuck in an open or closed position.
  • Clicking or popping: Audible sounds that accompany the movement of the jaw, typically heard when opening or closing the mouth.
  • Headaches: Particularly those localized in the temples or the back of the head.
  • Earaches: Some individuals may experience earaches, especially noticeable during chewing or yawning.
  • Facial pain: Particularly in the muscles involved in chewing.
  • Dental problems: Tooth grinding or clenching, chipped teeth, unevenly worn enamel, misaligned teeth, bleeding gums.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to see a dentist like Dr. Postol or your doctor to get a diagnosis. There is no single test that can diagnose TMJ disorder and the symptoms can be similar to other conditions making it difficult to pinpoint the cause. However, Dr. Postol will be able to rule out other conditions and make sure that you have TMJ disorder.

Dr. Postol will do a physical exam of your jaw and face and ask you about your symptoms and medical history. In some cases, Dr. Postol may order imaging tests, such as X-rays or other digital scans, to rule out other conditions.

The Best Doctor To See for TMJ Pain: Dentist, Doctor, or Physical Therapist?

The best type of doctor to see for TMJ pain depends on the severity of your symptoms and the underlying cause of the joint disorder. However, in general, dentists are the most common type of doctor to see for TMJ pain. This is because dentists are specifically trained to diagnose and treat disorders of the jaw.

Dentists like Dr. Postol can diagnose the disorder by doing a physical exam of your jaw and face. Dr. Postol may also ask you about your symptoms and medical history. In some cases, he may order imaging tests, such as X-rays or MRI scans, to rule out other conditions. If Dr. Postol diagnoses you with TMJ disorder, he will work with you to develop a treatment plan.

Is TMJ Permanent? Can It Be Cured?

The good news is that TMJ disorder can be cured permanently. In some cases, the symptoms can go away on their own. However, in more severe cases, the symptoms may be chronic and require ongoing treatment.

Surprisingly, a simple lifestyle change can sometimes be the key to conquering TMJ disorder. For example, stress is a common cause of strain on the jaw because it may cause you to unknowingly clench and grind your teeth. Reducing your stress can reduce or stop this habit and help relax your jaw and the TMJ symptoms.

With proper treatment, most people with TMJ disorder can find relief from their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of TMJ Disorder?

In some cases, TMJ disorder can have long-term effects. These effects can vary depending on the severity of the disorder and the individual’s response to treatment. Some of the potential long-term effects include:

  • Pain: Can be chronic and may worsen over time. In some cases, the pain can become so severe that it interferes with daily activities such as eating, speaking, and sleeping.
  • Damage to teeth and gums: When the jaw is pained, it may cause an abnormal bite which can lead to damage including tooth wear, gum recession, chipped teeth, and even tooth loss.
  • Hearing problems: Ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and hearing loss due to inflammation around the Eustachian tubes.
  • Headaches: These headaches can be mild or severe and may be accompanied by other symptoms such as neck pain and facial pain.
  • Sleep problems: This is because the pain and discomfort associated with TMJ disorder can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Depression and anxiety: The chronic pain and discomfort associated with TMJ disorder can take a toll on a person’s emotional well-being.

TMJ disorder can be a frustrating and painful condition, but there are effective treatments available. With proper treatment, most people with the disorder can find relief from their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

What Can I Do To Manage My TMJ Disorder at Home?

For mild conditions of TMJ disorder, you can manage the symptoms at home, but we advise you to see your dentist who can help you with additional tips to manage your specific condition. Here are a few self-care tips to manage TMJ pain at home.

  • Applying heat or cold: Applying heat or cold to the affected area can help to reduce pain and inflammation. You can use a hot water bottle, heating pad, or ice pack.
  • Massaging the jaw muscles: Massaging the jaw muscles can help to relax the muscles and reduce pain. You can use your fingers or a massage tool to massage the muscles.
  • Using a mouth guard: A mouth guard can help to keep your teeth from grinding together and protect your teeth from damage. You can get a mouth guard from your Dr. Postol.
  • Avoiding triggers: If you know what triggers your TMJ disorder, such as stress or clenching your teeth, try to avoid these triggers.
  • Getting enough sleep: Getting enough sleep can help to reduce stress and improve your overall health, which can help to improve your TMJ disorder.
  • Relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques, such as yoga or meditation, can also help to reduce stress and improve your health and your TMJ disorder.
  • Exercise: Lastly, exercise can help to reduce stress and improve your overall health, which can help to improve your TMJ disorder.

The last four suggestions have to do with managing stress in different ways because stress has a direct effect on the jaw for many people.

What Are the Risks of Surgery for TMJ Disorder?

Sometimes surgery is the recommended treatment for severe TMJ disorder but surgery is a last resort for people who have not responded to other treatments. All surgeries come with a level of risk including surgery for TMJ-related issues. Some of these risks include:

  • Infection: There is always a risk of infection after surgery. This risk is higher if you have other health problems, such as diabetes or heart disease.
  • Bleeding: There is a risk of bleeding during and after surgery. This risk is higher if you take blood thinners or have other health problems that affect your blood clotting.
  • Damage to nerves: There is a risk of damage to nerves during surgery. This can lead to numbness or tingling in the face, lips, or tongue.
  • Damage to teeth or gums: There is a risk of damage to teeth or gums during surgery. This can lead to tooth loss or gum recession.
  • Failure of the surgery: There is a risk that the surgery will not be successful. This means that you may still experience pain or other symptoms after surgery.
  • Allergic reaction to anesthesia: If you have allergies, you may be at risk of an allergic reaction to the anesthesia used during surgery.
  • Scarring: There will be scarring at the surgical site. The amount of scarring will vary depending on the type of surgery performed.
  • Pain: You will likely experience some pain after surgery. This pain can be managed with medication.
  • Recovery time: Recovery time from TMJ surgery varies depending on the type of surgery performed. You may need to stay in the hospital for a few days after surgery. You will also need to take it easy for several weeks after surgery.

It is important to discuss the risks of TMJ surgery with your doctor before deciding whether or not to have surgery.

How Can I Prevent TMJ Disorder?

Mostly, you prevent TMJ disorders by following the recommendations that have already been given to treat the symptoms. However, there are a few more tips to help you with prevention that haven’t been mentioned yet. These include:

  • Get regular dental checkups: Your dentist can check for any problems with your bite or jaw alignment that could contribute to TMJ disorder.
  • Maintain good posture: You probably did think that posture had anything to do with your jaw, but everything is connected. Poor posture can put stress on your jaw muscles, so it’s important to sit up straight and keep your head in line with your spine.
  • Avoid chewing gum: Chewing gum can put a lot of stress on your jaw muscles. Jewing gum is not bad and can even be a good way to clean your teeth. However, too much gum chewing can wear on your jaw.
  • Watch what you eat: Be mindful of what you eat. Too much strain on your jaw such as hard, crunchy, or chewy foods, can put undue stress on your jaw muscles. You don’t have to avoid hard, crunchy, or chewy foods, just moderate.
  • Cut your food into small pieces: This will make it easier to chew and reduce the amount of stress on your jaw muscles. It’s also better table manners and prevents choking.

Final Thoughts

By arming yourself with knowledge, adopting preventive measures, and seeking appropriate professional care, you can navigate the complexities of TMJ disorder with confidence and take significant strides towards a pain-free and fulfilling life.

If you feel that you might have TMJ disorder and need help diagnosing and treating it, please call Dr. Postol for a consultation so he can help you get on the road to recovery.