There aren’t many chronic pain conditions that affect younger people more often than older folks, but the pain associated with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), called temporomandibular disorder (TMD), is one of them. If you’re a woman taking either birth control pills or supplemental estrogen, you’re even more likely to develop TMD. Across the population, TMD can affect as much as 12 percent of the population.
Referring to the spots at which your lower jaw moves, the TMJ is a sliding hinge. Most of the time, the pain associated with this joint is temporary and resolves itself, but for some, it can be a chronic condition for which it can be hard to find the cause. Here’s what you need to know to recognize TMD and what to expect from treatment.
The signs and symptoms of TMD
TMD can sometimes be hard to recognize because the pain associated with the condition can take many forms and you may not associate some of these with your jaw. Often, though, you’ll have tenderness, aching, or pain felt in your jaw. Pain could also center on one or both TMJs themselves, but it’s also possible that you feel TMD pain throughout your face, typically as an ache without a definable point of origin.
You may notice TMD through trouble you have while chewing, with either pain, movement of the jaw, or both being the issue. The jaw’s joint can also lock up, interfering with your ability to open and close your mouth. The pain from TMD can also resemble earaches. You may feel clicking or popping in your jaw as well as pain symptoms. If no pain is present, similar sensations are usually no cause for concern.
Possible causes of TMJ disorders
As with other joints in your body, the bones of your upper and lower jaw are covered with cartilage around the areas of movement. In addition, the TMJ has a small pad on both sides of your face that acts as a cushion and helps to keep jaw motion smooth.
This pad can move out of place or erode, affecting the alignment and movement of your jaw, resulting in TMD symptoms. Any damage to the cartilage covering jaw bones can result in painful bone on bone contact. This could be due to arthritic conditions or by impact damage to the joint.
TMD risk factors
Frequently, however, TMD pain may result for unknown reasons, or because of a combination of factors. There are conditions that increase your risk of developing TMD. You’ve already seen that age, gender, and hormone therapies can raise the risk. Other factors include:
- Having some form of arthritis, such as osteo- or rheumatoid arthritis
- Having a connective tissue disease that affects the TMJ
- Chronic bruxism, the grinding of your teeth, creating excess pressure on your TMJ
- An injury to the jaw, such as from a sports injury or car accident
When to seek dental care for TMD
You can seek medical attention for TMD from either a doctor or dental professional. Dr. Joseph Yousefian of Yousefian Orthodontics for Children, Teens and Adults is both a TMJ and TMD specialist. Dr. Yousefian and his team can get to the bottom of your jaw pain quickly, as well as recommending a variety of treatment options based on the problem you’re experiencing. Call the office or request an appointment using the convenient online tool to arrange your personal consultation today.