TMD, TMJ and the causes of jaw pain
The clinical term for jaw pain is TMD, or temporal mandibular disorder. It comes from the TMJ, which is the temporal mandibular joint—the jaw joint. It’s a jaw pain that can start around the general area but may present as referred pain in the neck and shoulders, or headaches.
It’s unpleasant and ongoing. So, let’s look at what clients who have TMD are experiencing. What are the triggers that might suggest to a dentist that the client has this condition?
Symptoms of TMD
Some of the symptoms that we find in clients with TMJ disorders include jaw pain, an aching pain in and around the ear, difficulty chewing, and soreness in the muscles around the neck and the jaw. Some clients start to get clicking of the jaw joints, and locking of the jaw joints in some cases as well. These sorts of complaints will trigger an investigation of whether the jaw pain they are experiencing can be traced to the TMJ.
So, what’s happening in the client’s mouth when this jaw pain occurs? On a clinical level, there is what you call the disc that’s part of your temporal mandibular joint and that disc might be inflamed. In some cases, it might have moved forwards or backwards of the jaw joints. That’s what is causing TMJ dysfunction. Teeth grinding can be part of this problem.
What’s really causing your jaw pain?
The first thing we need to do is to work out why the client is experiencing those symptoms. Are the symptoms related to the TMJ, or is there is some other issue at play? If it’s related to TMJ, it’s important to try conservative methods of treatment first.
These conservative methods for treating or allaying jaw pain might include physiotherapy to help the client loosen the muscle, or a daily series of repetitions of exercises they can try to help them relax or realign the TMJ.
We work closely with a physiotherapist who specialises in TMJ dysfunction—they use massage manipulation and techniques to help fix and heal those muscles around the jaw joints.
Medications that may help with TMD
Other conservative methods to manage jaw pain include magnesium tablets. These can sometimes be a very quick way of helping to reduce muscle cramping—by helping to relieve tension.
It’s worth noting that many of the women clients I see tend to be deficient in magnesium too. In some of my clients, magnesium treatment has worked very well. We might also try methods such as bite guards—splints—that are inserted over the teeth. These can help to relax those muscles. They also protect teeth if the TMJ is associated with teeth grinding overnight.
Managing extreme cases of TMD
Beyond that, if physiotherapy isn’t managing the problem, we might need to consider surgery to correct the bite. This is usually the last stop in the suite of treatments we offer to manage jaw pain caused by TMJ. If the treatment plans to relax the muscles around the joint don’t appear to be relieving the jaw pain or encouraging healing, we will certainly consider this option.