TMJ Disorder (TMD) FAQs

Dr. Kyle Hornby

I wanted to get into Temperomandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMJD or TMD) today as this condition affects a large percentage of the population. Some people experience a constant set of symptoms related to TMD while other experience symptoms only some of the time.

Below, I will answer the 10 most common TMD Questions that we get from our patients. In going through these, you'll learn about what TMD is, what it's symptoms are, what can cause it, and how you can manage it.

Here we go...

What is TMJ dysfunction?

TMJ Dysfunction (TMD) involves problems in the movement or function of the muscles and joints that produce jaw movement. You have 2 temperomandibular joints (TMJ), one directly in front of the midpoint of each ear.

To locate your TMJ, simply hold a finger directly in front of your ear while opening and closing your mouth. You'll feel a lobe or round area (the "Condyle") and that fits into a small concavity (the "Mandibular Fossa") directly above it. There is an "Articular Disc" that acts like a pillow or cushion between the Condyle and the Mandibular Fossa. This gives you a basic understanding of the position and makeup of the TMJ.

Who diagnoses TMJ Disorder?

Typically, your Family Dentist in Kitchener will diagnose TMJ disorder. Medical doctors may also provide this diagnosis or refer you to a Kitchener Dentist for examination. The diagnosis is commonly made after first onset of TMD symptoms.

How is TMJ Disorder diagnosed?

Temperomandibular joint disorder is diagnosed on the basis of signs and symptoms. As mentioned above, this can include "clicking" and "popping" signs coming from the joint itself, soreness around the joint area (directly in front of the ears) or in muscles of the cheeks and temples, as well as stiffness of the jaw.

These signs and symptoms tend to crop up intermittently in patients suffering from TMJ dysfunction. Not all need to be present for a diagnosis of TMD to be made.

What are symptoms of TMJD/TMD?

Symptoms associated with temperomandibular joint disorder include soreness or ache in front of the ears (around the TMJ), soreness in muscles of the cheek and/or temples, jaw stiffness, or frequent headaches and referred pain to the neck, back of the skull or around the eyes.

Other signs include sensations or sounds related to joint "clicking" or "popping". In some cases, a patient with TMD will notice their jaw locking in fixed positions from time to time.

What can cause TMJ Dysfunction?

There are multiple possible causes for TMD. They include:

  • Trauma to the jaw/Previous jaw injury
  • Tooth Grinding or "Bruxism"
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Having a resting "bite" that keeps your jaw in an unbalanced position

What doctor treats TMJ Disorder?

Dentists can direct treatment on TMJ disorders. Some oral surgeons may specialize in this area as well. Fortunately, the need for surgical treatment is extremely rare. Most commonly, treatment involves more conservative measures that I will discuss directly below.

What treatments exist for TMD?

Typically, your Kitchener Dentist will try to determine root causes of your TMJ dysfunction. From there, treatment tends to involve conservative measures including a combination of in-office & at-home treatments.

Conservative In-Office Treatments for TMJ Disorder

There are a host of simple and cost-effective, in-office treatments for TMJ disorder. These helpful treatments are available through Dentists, Physiotherapists, Registered Massage Therapists (RMTs) and Chiropractors.

Night Guard for Tooth Grinding

Where nighttime grinding or "bruxing" is a cause, your Dentist in Kitchener may recommend use of a custom night guard. The night guard will fit over your teeth and cushion heavy grinding forces during sleep. Additionally, the flat plane of a night guard will allow your jaw to glide more freely during grinding.

Where Sleep Apnea is a trigger for grinding, Apnea therapies may minimize grinding and improve or eliminate TMJ disorder.

Home Remedies for Treating TMJ Disorder

Surprisingly, there's a lot that you can do at home to help diminish the symptoms of TMJ disorder. These approaches have the benefit of being conservative and non-invasive.

Stretching & Relaxation

Some forms of TMJ dysfunction involve stiffness of the muscles that control jaw function. This can lead to limited opening or pain on chewing. Stretching exercises can increase range of motion and improve function.

One key is to avoid stretching too maximally. Consider trying to reach 75 - 80% of maximum opening. Avoid really straining your jaw to stretch as far as you can. You're not trying to recover a full range of motion all at once, so go slowly.

Massage Therapy & Physiotherapy

Massage therapy can release tension in cheek and neck muscles as well as in the temples. Regular massages can also increase blood flow and nutrition to help these fatigued muscles heal.

Physiotherapy exercises can help to strengthen muscles around the TMJ. Postural training can help you to establish a new resting position for your head and jaw and this may alleviate chronic TMJ pain.

Prescription Medications for Pain Relief

In some cases, your Kitchener Family Dentist may prescribe short-term anti-inflammatories such as Naproxen or Toradol (Ketorolac) to dampen inflammation and relieve pain.

Some patients respond well to muscle relaxants which relieve tension in over-used, fatigued muscles of the cheeks, neck and temples.

Use of medications to manage TMJ disorders should only be a short-term solution.

Is Botox Injection for TMD treatment effective?

Some Dentists believe in the use of regular botox injections to treat TMJ dysfunction. How can botox help?

  1. Botox acts as an inhibitor to reduce muscle activity around the TMJ.
  2. Botox reduces release of pro-inflammatory mediators that trigger chronic pain sensation.

Importantly, botox does not address structural or behavioural causes of TMJ disorder. Therefore, it is advisable to pursue the cause(s) of your TMD. Long-term use of Botox can have severe consequences. Additionally, people can become hooked on the aesthetic changes produced by regular Botox injections.

At-Home Management of TMD

There are several things you can do in the comfort of your own home to significantly diminish symptoms of TMD. If you develop these habits, you can minimize the effects that TMD flare-ups are having on your life.

Ice & Heat Compresses

Hang on a second - cold and heat are opposite forces, no? Well, ice can reduce inflammation and pain as it does when you use it on a severe bruise. But heat can help alleviate jaw stiffness by elevating muscle temperature making the muscles more limber and increasing range of motion.

Patients often need to experiment with 10 minute heat or cold compresses to see what provides greatest relief.

By Dr. Kyle Hornby, Dentist in Kitchener, ON

Our Kitchener Dental Office is conveniently located in Downtown Kitchener and we are a short drive away for families in Waterloo, Breslau & St. Jacobs. Our central location means we truly offer family dentistry near you!

This article is meant to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Accordingly, always seek the advice of your Kitchener Dentist or other healthcare provider regarding a dental condition or treatment.

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