If you have chronic jaw pain, you may be one of an estimated 10 million Americans suffering from temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD). If so, it's quite possible you're also coping with other health conditions.
TMD is an umbrella term for disorders affecting the temporomandibular (jaw) joints, muscles and adjoining tissues. The most common symptoms are limited jaw function and severe pain. Determining the causes for these disorders can be difficult, but trauma, bite or dental problems, stress and teeth clenching habits seem to be the top factors. Women of childbearing age are most susceptible to these disorders.
In recent years we've also learned that many people with TMD also experience other conditions. In a recent survey of TMD patients, two-thirds reported having three or more other health conditions, the most frequent being fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis or chronic headaches. Researchers are actively exploring if any systemic connections exist between TMD and these other conditions, and how these connections might affect treatment changes and advances for all of them including TMD.
In the meantime, there remain two basic approaches for treating TMD symptoms. The most aggressive and invasive approach is to surgically correct perceived defects in the jaw structure. Unfortunately, the results from this approach have been mixed in their effectiveness, with some patients even reporting worse symptoms afterward.
The more conservative approach is to treat TMD orthopedically, like other joint problems. These less invasive techniques include the use of moist heat or ice to reduce swelling, physical therapy and medication to relieve pain or reduce muscle spasming. Patients are also encouraged to adopt softer diets with foods that are easier to chew. And dentists can also provide custom-fitted bite guards to help ease the stress on the joints and muscles as well as reduce any teeth grinding habits.
As we learn more about TMD and its relationship to other health conditions, we hope to improve diagnosis and treatment. Until then, most dentists and physicians recommend TMD patients try the more conservative treatments first, and only consider surgery if this proves unsatisfactory. It may take some trial and error, but there are ways now to ease the discomfort of TMD.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatments of TMD, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Chronic Jaw Pain and Associated Conditions.”
After ruling out other possibilities for your constant jaw joint pain, your doctor has diagnosed you with a temporomandibular disorder (TMD). Now that you know what you have, what can you do about it?
Unfortunately, it's not always an easy answer. Ideas about treatment are almost as numerous as theories on the causes of TMD. By and large, though, we can classify treatment into two broad categories: conservative and aggressive.
The conservative approach is the result of many years of experimentation and application; it's also much less invasive than aggressive treatments. For most patients, though, these treatments can offer significant relief from pain and dysfunction.
Conservative treatments are based primarily on the philosophy that the temporomandibular joint is like any other joint, and should be treated that way. Treatments include thermal therapies like ice or heat packs applied to the jaw, physical therapy (gentle stretching, jaw exercise, and massage) and pain and muscle relaxant medication. In cases where teeth grinding may be a contributing factor, we might recommend a bite guard worn in the mouth to reduce biting pressure.
On the other end of the spectrum are treatments like altering the bite or the position of the jaw. The purpose of bite alteration is to change the dynamic when the jaws are in contact during chewing or clenching, and reduce pressure on the joints. This is often done by reshaping the teeth's biting surfaces, moving the teeth with orthodontics or performing crown and bridgework. Another possibility, actually modifying the lower jaw location, requires surgery. All of these aggressive treatments are done in order of less to more invasiveness.
These more aggressive treatments, especially jaw surgery, are irreversible. Furthermore, studies on results have not been encouraging — there's no guarantee you'll receive relief from your symptoms. You should consider the aggressive approach only as a last resort, after you've tried more conservative measures. Even then, you should get a second opinion before undergoing more invasive procedures.
Hopefully, you'll see relief from therapies that have made a significant difference for most TMD sufferers. And that's our goal: to reduce your pain and dysfunction and help you regain your quality of life.
If you would like more information on TMD causes and treatments, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Seeking Relief from TMD.”
Eating is one of the pleasures — and necessities — of life, but people who suffer from temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) may find eating no pleasure at all — and they may not be eating the right nutritional balance of foods.
TMD is a collection of conditions that affect the jaw joints, connecting muscles and other related facial structures. If you've been diagnosed with TMD, you're probably not only acquainted with severe pain, but also difficulty opening your jaw as widely as normal. This can make it difficult to chew certain foods.
There are a number of effective treatments for TMD, including thermal therapy (hot or cold packs), joint exercise, medication or surgery (as a last resort). But these treatments often take time to make a noticeable difference. In the meantime, you may still need to change what and how you eat to ensure you're getting the nutrients your body needs.
The overall strategy should be to soften and reduce the chewing size of your food. With fruits and vegetables, you'll want to peel and discard any hard or chewy skins, and then chop the fruit flesh into smaller pieces. Steam or cook vegetables like greens, broccoli or cauliflower until they're soft and then chop them into smaller portions. You might also consider pureeing your fruit (and some vegetables) to make smoothies with ice, milk or yogurt, or vegetable-based soups.
Treat meat, poultry or seafood in much the same way, especially biting sizes. Besides cooking meats to tenderness, include moisteners like broths, gravies or brazing liquids to further make them easier to chew.
Dairy foods are an important source of nutrition: eat milk-based products like yogurt or cheese as much as you can handle. If you have problems with these or also nut butters, then consider meal replacement beverages like instant breakfast or whey protein beverages.
And don't forget whole grains. Although some can be hard to chew, you can prepare them in hot cereal form (like oatmeal) to tenderize them. You can also prepare thin bread toast and cut into smaller pieces.
Hopefully, your treatment will bring your TMD symptoms under manageable control. Until then (and after, if need be) adjust your diet to eat the foods that keep you healthy.
It’s estimated that between 10 and 40 million adults in the U.S. suffer from chronic jaw pain and disability. Healthcare providers refer to it as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD), a group of conditions characterized by pain and limited function with the jaw joints, as well as related muscles and tissues.
People with TMJD often experience popping, clicking or grating sounds when they move their lower jaw. The more serious symptoms, however, are severe pain and limited movement of the jaw. The causes of TMJD haven’t been fully substantiated, but it’s believed to be influenced by a person’s genetic background, their gender (most patients are women of childbearing age), their environment and behavioral habits. This uncertainty about the underlying causes has made it difficult to improve treatment strategies for the disorder.
One promising area of research, though, is suspected connections between TMJD and other health problems. In one survey of over 1,500 TMJD patients, nearly two-thirds indicated they had three or more other chronic conditions. Among the most frequently named were fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and sleep disturbances.
We’re not quite sure how or why TMJD might be linked to these other conditions, but further study is underway. Researchers hope any knowledge uncovered could lead to advances in our ability to diagnose, treat and prevent TMJD.
Until then, the more traditional treatment approach remains the best course of action: medication to relax muscles and relieve pain; thermal therapies using hot and cold compresses during flare-ups; and physical therapy. Switching to softer foods temporarily may also give jaw muscles a rest from over-activity. Although jaw surgery is an option, we should consider it a last resort after other therapies have proven altogether ineffective in relieving pain and restoring function.
If you suspect you have TMJD, please visit a medical doctor first. Other conditions could mimic the symptoms of the disorder and would need to be ruled out first. If the diagnosis is TMJD, you’re not alone. You can receive information, support and updates on the latest research by visiting the TMJ Association at www.tmj.org.
If you would like more information on chronic jaw pain, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Chronic Jaw Pain and Associated Conditions.”