What Is Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD) and How Do You Treat It?

Are you aware that good healthy teeth can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease? Apart from maintaining good oral hygiene, you now have one more reason to honor your annual dentist appointment.

According to the Canadian Dental Association (CDA), 75% of Canadians visit the dentist every year. Though most of the visits are oral checkups, some are serious and may even require surgery.

When it comes to toothaches, cavities and tooth decays are often the main culprits. However, a visit to the dentist may also be prompted by conditions that are not necessarily tooth-related, such as Temporomandibular disorder (TMD).

Understanding TMD

The temporomandibular joints are the hinges that connect the temporal bones of the skull to the jaw. You have one on each side of the face. It’s because of these joints that you can move your jaw to speak, chew, and even yawn.

Any injuries to the joints or any of the muscles in your face that control them can cause localized pain. This condition is known as temporomandibular disorder (TMD).

It can affect either side of the jaw or even both sides. Strangely enough, it is more prevalent in women than it is in men as only one in ten people affected by TMD is a man.

Causes of TMD

In most cases, TMD is caused by a combination of several factors. They include:

  • Dislocation or injury to the jaw.
  • Clenching or grinding of teeth which puts the joint under immense pressure.
  • Arthritis.
  • Tooth and jaw misalignment.
  • Stress causes facial and jaw muscles to tighten.
  • Disk erosion leading to a misalignment in the jaw.

Symptoms of TMD

The discomfort and pain that results from injury to temporomandibular joints is often temporary and can be self-managed. However, it can also cause discomfort and severe pain.

Symptoms include:

  • Difficulty opening the mouth.
  • Jaw locking and getting stuck, making it difficult to close or open your mouth.
  • Tenderness or pain in the joint area, face, neck, and shoulders when you chew, speak, or open your mouth wide.
  • Popping sounds in the temporomandibular joints when you are eating and speaking.
  • Headaches.
  • Sore or stiff jaw muscles.
  • A sensation of tiredness in the face.
  • Sudden changes in how the upper and lower teeth align.

How Is TMD Treated?

There is no specific treatment for TMD, but the symptoms can be addressed to remedy the condition. Usually, simple measures that can be taken at home are enough to resolve the condition. They include

  • Use of moist heat or icepacks- To relieve the pain and reduce inflammation, apply an ice pack to the sore area for ten minutes. Afterward, place a warm washcloth or towel. Do this a few times every day until the symptoms subside.
  • Take over-the-counter medications- Use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to relieve pain and reduce any swelling.
  • Stay away from hard foods- Avoid any crunchy foods that may aggravate injuries.
  • Perform some gentle jaw stretches and massages.
  • Try relaxation techniques to help you reduce the tension in your jaw muscles.

For severe cases where home remedies are not sufficient, or the condition keeps resurfacing, a visit to a dental clinic will be required. Depending on the specific symptoms, the dentist can recommend several treatments.

The disorder may not be cured, but the treatments will help control the symptoms and relieve pain. Treatments include:

  • Use of a dental splint or bite guard to prevent grinding and correct improper bite function.
  • Physical therapy for the jaw to strengthen muscles and improve flexibility.

At times surgery may be required for more severe TMD cases. Such operations may involve a TMJ arthroscopy (a procedure where fluid in joints is drained using a needle) or replacement of the entire joint.


The symptoms of mild temporomandibular disorder may seem insignificant but may be severe and painful over time. Therefore, to adequately address any issues with your temporomandibular joints with a TMJ dentist as soon as you notice them.

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