TMD—sounds like something a teen would text, but it’s actually is a group of common disorders thought to affect more than 10 million Americans. Standing for “temporomandibular joint,” TMJ is the joint connecting your upper and lower jaw; TMJ also has come to stand for a wide range of disorders affecting the jaw, jaw joint and surrounding muscles, although the proper abbreviation for temporomandibular disorders is TMD. Learn more about TMD and hear from Dr. Zachary Langgle, D.C., Chiropractic Director of Chiro One Wellness Center of Forest Park, on some non-invasive treatments to try.
While research by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) estimates that 10 million people suffer from TMD—a whopping 75 percent of the population may be affected by one or more symptoms of a TMJ problem. An overwhelming majority of sufferers are women—accounting for nearly 90 percent of patients who seek treatment, specifically women between the ages of 18 and 44. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough research yet to determine why women are more greatly affected.
Finding the Cause
Originally thought to be caused, in part, by teeth misalignment or improper jaw position (overbite or underbite), specialists haven’t found research to back up this link and are now finding that causes are more likely to be a combination of many different factors. This makes it difficult to pinpoint specific causes and complicated to diagnose. In their article, Temporomandibular Disorders, The New England Journal of Medicine states that “the temporomandibular joint may be affected by inflammation, traumatic, infectious, congenital [present from birth], developmental, and neoplastic [tumor growth] diseases, as seen in other joints.”
If you place your hands on your face, right in front of your ear lobes and open and close your mouth, you can feel your TMJ. Issues with this complex joint can cause a variety of symptoms—and some of these symptoms on their own may not indicate a disorder. The most common symptom is a dull, aching pain around the ear which may extend to the side and back of the head or down the neck. This pain can worsen with chewing or talking, and some patients with this pain also experience a popping or clicking sound in the jaw. Other TMD sufferers also report jaw muscle stiffness and limited jaw mobility. Grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw can worsen these symptoms.
Top experts in this field, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and NIDCR, recommend conservative, reversible treatments as the best route of action. Dr. Zachary agrees, “The best way to approach this disorder is by choosing the least invasive treatment first, rather than aggressive treatments, like surgery and implants, which penetrate the tissues of the face, jaw or joint.”
Dr. Zachary has treated patients who suffer from TMD or TMJ-related issues in his office and has performed chiropractic treatments to help alleviate some of the symptoms, “Adjustments of the TMJ and soft tissue work around the muscles surrounding the joint can help to alleviate tension and relieve pain.”
If you think you are suffering from TMD or can relate to these symptoms, seek out a healthcare professional’s opinion. In the meanwhile, Dr. Zachary recommends resting the jaw when possible and to pay close attention to habits, such as teeth grinding or nail-biting, which may be worsening the pain or disorder.