Spotlight on TMJ Disorders: Causes and Treatments

Aching Jaw

Aching JawAbout 35 million people in the United States have TMD or TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorders. Although these disorders can affect both males and females, a large number of sufferers are females in their childbearing years.

What Exactly are TMJ Disorders?

TMJ or TMD disorders are painful conditions affecting the jaw or mandibular joint, as well as the muscles that control the movement of the jaws. While injury is the typical cause of many TMJ issues, many people experience symptoms for no apparent reason. Fortunately, for a majority of people the pain doesn’t indicate a more serious health issue.

In general, discomfort and pain is temporary and occasional, and will pass without treatment or with simple, non-surgical therapies. Even patients with persistent symptoms don’t undergo aggressive or surgical treatments.

According to both the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) and the American Association for Dental Research (AADR), the main reason for this is that experts in the field are still unsure about the exact causes of TMJ disorders and what treatments are really necessary. There’s also insufficient evidence that indicates which types of treatments work.

What You Can Do

Until sufficient science-based evidence is available for treating TMJ, the NIDCR and AADR recommend the following:

  • Try easy home care practices like avoiding chewing gum, yawning widely, using ice to alleviate pain, eating easily chewable foods, and overexertion of the jaw. Pain medications are only for short-term use.
  • Avoid treatments that may result in permanent bite or jaw modifications. These can include repositioning splints, orthodontics, and crowns and bridges.
  • Note that there’s no single study that can attest to the effectiveness and safety of surgery for treating TMJ. It’s best to consult a health care professional, or a TMJ doctor if you will, who specializes in musculoskeletal disorders and is trained in treating jaw and muscle pain.

TMJ disorders may not always indicate a more serious problem, but to be sure, contact your doctor. Ask them about possible causes and how you can relieve the pain.

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