Posted by: admin in Articles on April 8th, 2011

Do you ever complain that it hurts when you chew, open wide to yawn or use your jaw?  Do you have pain or soreness in front of the ear, in the jaw muscle, cheek, the teeth or the temples?  Does your jaw make loud noises or get stuck or locked as you open your mouth?  If so, you may have a temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMJD.

What is TMJD?

     TMJD is a group of conditions, often painful, that affect the jaw joint.  Signs may include:

  • Radiating pain in the face, neck or shoulders
  • Limited movement or locking of the jaw
  • Painful clicking or grating when opening or closing the mouth
  • A significant change in the way the upper and lower teeth fit together
  • Headaches, earaches, dizziness, hearing problems and difficulty swallowing

For most people, the pain or discomfort is temporary and often occurs in cycles and resolves quickly once they stop moving the area.  Some people with TMJD, however, can develop chronic symptoms.

What Causes TMD?

  •  Severe injury to the jaw is a leading cause of TMJD.  Anything from a hit in the jaw during a sporting activity to chewing gum excessively or chewing on one side of the mouth too frequently may cause TMJD.
  • Clenching the teeth during times of psychological stress can be a major factor in development of TMJD.
  • Sitting in a dentist’s chair for several hours with the mouth wide open may have contributed to TMJD in the past.  Now, in addition to taking breaks while they do dental work, dentists also screen patients for any weaknesses in the jaw structure.
  • Women experience TMJD four times as often as men.  Several factors may contribute to this higher ratio, including but not limited to, prolonged sitting in the workplace, general posture, and wearing higher heels.

TMJD Diagnosis and Treatment

To help diagnose or rule out TMJD, your doctor of chiropractic may ask you to put three fingers in your mouth and bite down on them or to open and close your mouth and chew repeatedly while the doctor monitors the dimensions of the jaw joint and the muscle balance.  Sometimes special imaging, an xray or an MRI, may be needed to help confirm the diagnosis.  If you have TMJD, your doctor may recommend chiropractic manipulation, massage, applying heat or ice, and special exercises.  If your docotor of chiropractic feels that you need special appliances or splints, he or she will refer you to a dentist or orthodontist for co-management.  In addition to treatment, your doctor of chiropractic can teach you how to:

  • Apply heat and ice to lessen the pain.  Ice is recommended shortly after the injury or the onset of pain.  Later, you will need to switch to heat, especially if you are still experiencing discomfort.
  • Avoid harmful joint movements, such as biting into a hard apple or candy or eating giant sandwiches, which may have a de-stabilizing effect on the jaw.
  • Perform TMJD-specific exercises.  Depending on your condition, your doctor of chiropractic may recommend stretching or strengthening exercises.  Stretching helps to loosen tight muscles that have become loose.

In some cases, TMJD may not respond to a conservative approach.  For example, when there is a disc problem in the joint itself, it may require dental treatment or surgery.  Remember, however, that surgery and other irreversible treatments should be considered as a last resort.  According to the National Institutes of Health, certain irreversible treatments, such as surgical replacement of jaw joints with artificial implants, may cause severe pain and permanent jaw damage. *

*(Reprinted with the permission of the American Chiropractic Association)

No individuals, including those under our active care, should use the information, resources or tools contained within to self-diagnose or self-treat any health-related condition. Diagnosis and treatment of all health conditions should only be performed by the doctor or other licensed health care professional.
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