Temporo-mandibular disorder (TMD) can be a very painful and distressing condition that may last only a few days or weeks, or for many years. More women than men experience TMD and it mainly occurs in the twenties and thirties, though it can occur at any age.
The most common signs and symptoms of TMD include:
- Pain or tenderness in the jaw joint area that may extend towards the neck and shoulders, up into the temporal region, and even into the ear; pain is usually brought on when moving the jaw for chewing, eating, laughing, or yawning, but can occur spontaneously
- Clicking or popping sounds upon opening the jaw
- Swelling of the side of the face and over the joint area
- Grinding of the teeth, or a feeling that the upper and lower teeth are not fitting together properly
The causes of TMD are not clear, but most dentists and otolaryngologists believe the condition arises due to problems in how the muscles, the joints, and the teeth all work together, and on both sides. The jawbone is the only bone in the body where both left and right joints have to work in harmony, similar to a hinge movement. The factors that contribute to TMD are stress (which leads to jaw clenching), damage to the joint itself through injury or arthritis, and grinding the teeth that puts excessive pressure on the joints.
There are many other conditions with similar symptoms, so you should arrange to see your dentist for a full evaluation and diagnosis.
While waiting to see your dentist, some relief can be obtained by:
- Eating soft foods
- Avoiding excessive jaw movements
- Applying hot or cold packs to the affected area
- Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever, the same as you may take for a headache, for example
It is important to continue your daily oral hygiene routine as best you can, but try to avoid opening your mouth very wide as this may make the condition worse.
Figure: Pain from TMD radiates from the joint, just in front of the ear, and may affect the side of the cheeks, the temples, and around the ear itself.