What Is TMD And How Can Orthodontics Treat It?

When something is off with the alignment of your jaw, it’s hard to ignore. It can lead to a whole host of complaints, from headaches to neck pain to ringing ears. One of the most common causes of problems with the jaw and the facial muscles is a temporomandibular joint disorder or TMD. We use the term as a way to describe the jaw pain and dysfunction that can occur when something is structurally off with the temporomandibular joint itself, a problem with the muscles that support it, or both. Because the muscles and joints of the jaws are so complex and full of nerve endings, when something goes wrong,  it can cause a wide range of symptoms from mild to severe.

If you’ve ever experienced any possible TMD symptoms, you may find yourself wondering exactly TMD is, and what treatments are available to help correct it. It might also seem strange that an orthodontics practice like Krieger Orthodontics is writing a blog about the topic. What does TMD have to do with orthodontics? Keep reading, because we’re going to break it all down for you below.

What is the difference between TMJ and TMD?

TMD and TMJ are used interchangeably, but incorrectly, all the time. TMJ is not actually a disease or illness. It’s an abbreviation for temporomandibular joint, the hinge points that connect the jaw bones to the head. Located directly in front of the ears, this joint gives us the ability to speak and chew our food. The TMJ has impressive mobility, and rotates, glides, and acts as a powerful hinge all at the same time. It’s also surrounded by a number of complex protectors like tendons, muscles, and joint pads. Generally speaking, these components work well together. If they get thrown off course, however, it can lead to issues like pain, popping, and inflammation. This is where TMD enters the picture. This frustrating set of conditions can be painful and is especially problematic when you consider that the TMJ is one of the most frequently used joints we have.

Possible symptoms of TMD

TMD will affect different people in different ways. While some will experience only mild symptoms that pop up every now and then, others will have serious symptoms that persist for years. Some of the most common symptoms of TMD are:

  • pain or tenderness in the face, jaw joint, neck, and shoulders
  • pain in or around the ear when chewing and speaking
  • pain when opening the mouth wide
  • difficulty opening the mouth wide
  • jaws that get stuck or locked, whether the mouth is open or closed
  • popping or grating sounds in the jaw joint when the mouth is open or closed
  • popping, grating, or other sounds in the jaw when chewing
  • face feeling “tired”
  • difficulty chewing
  • feeling as though the upper and lower teeth don’t fit together properly
  • swelling on the side of the face
  • ringing or stuffy ears

TMD can be tricky, as its symptoms can be similar to other common dental issues, such as tooth decay and gum disease. They can also mimic medical conditions such as arthritis. They can also mimic medical conditions such as arthritis. In order to receive a proper diagnosis and the most appropriate treatment, you should schedule a thorough examination with an experienced dental and orthodontic professional like Dr. Krieger.

What can cause TMD to develop?

TMD symptoms tend to arise from a problem (or multiple problems) with the muscles of your jaw, or with the parts of the TMJ itself. Some of the most common causes of TMD developing are:

  • grinding or clenching the teeth, which puts extra pressure on the joint
  • movement of the soft cushion or disc between the ball and socket of the joint
  • arthritis in the TMJ
  • stress, which can tighten the facial and jaw muscles, or cause unconscious teeth clenching
  • injury to the jaw, the joint, or the muscles of the head and neck

Leaving bad bites or misaligned jaws untreated can also put unnecessary stress on the sensitive components that connect the TMJ, potentially causing chronic shooting pain that may be felt throughout the face, neck, shoulders, back, and arms, among other symptoms.

How is TMD diagnosed?

Here at Krieger Orthodontics, we are able to use state-of-the-art technology and techniques to pinpoint the source of a patient’s TMD. To gain an accurate diagnosis of TMD, Dr. Krieger will measure different aspects of the teeth and jaw, determine the jaw’s proper resting position, and map out the movement of the jaw during speaking and eating. Once the source of TMD has been found and a proper diagnosis is given, our team will have the foundation they need to create a customized treatment plan that addresses each patient’s specific needs.

What treatment options exist for TMD?

Many people with TMD have relatively mild symptoms that only appear periodically. These often improve on their own within a few weeks or months, though there are things that can be done to help ease and/or eliminate any discomfort, such as eating soft foods, applying ice or moist heat to the affected area, and avoiding extreme jaw movements like wide yawning and gum chewing.

woman holding her jaw

Whenever possible, conservative treatment that is reversible is preferred for patients with TMD, as they don’t invade the tissues of the face, jaw, or joint, or involve surgery. These treatments won’t produce any permanent changes in the structure or position of the jaw or teeth, either. An example of this kind of conservative treatment would be splints or night guards. These plastic mouthpieces fit over the upper and lower teeth to keep them from touching, and wearing one of these can lessen the effects of clenching or grinding. They can also help correct the bite by putting teeth in a more desirable position.

Even if TMD symptoms become more persistent, most patients still won’t need more aggressive types of treatment. For troublesome cases of TMD, missing teeth may need to be replaced, and crowns and bridges may be used to balance the biting surfaces of the teeth. For patients who require more complex bite correction, orthodontic treatment such as braces or Invisalign may be required.

If left untreated, TMD can lead to long-term issues with inflammation, swelling, and chronic pain. It can also contribute to progressive dental problems, such as premature tooth wear and periodontal disease. For this reason, anyone with TMD symptoms should get in touch with an experienced dentist or orthodontist like Dr. Krieger to schedule a thorough examination and consultation.

TMD diagnosis & treatment with Krieger Orthodontics

Have you noticed any symptoms of TMD in yourself or a loved one? Are you interested in learning more about the diagnosis and treatment of TMD? If so, we invite you to contact us and set up a time to come into our Lewisville office for a consultation with Dr. Krieger. When it comes to looking out for your oral health, we’re on the front line!