Temporomandibular Joint Disorder

Do you feel pain every time you open your mouth wide to yawn or when you chew? Or perhaps you often feel your jaw locked or stuck when you try to open it? If you have been experiencing soreness or pain along your jaw muscles, teeth, cheek or temples, you may be suffering from temporomandibular joint disorder or TMD.

Maxillofacial concept x-ray jawsCommon Symptoms

Among the most common symptoms of TMD include the following:

  • Radiating pain in the face, neck or shoulders;
  • Limited movement or locking of the jaw;
  • Painful clicking or grating when opening or closing the mouth;
  • A significant change in the way the upper and lower teeth fit together;
  • Headaches, earaches, dizziness, hearing problems and difficulty swallowing.

For most people, pain or discomfort in the jaw muscles or joints may be temporary and often occurs in cycles. In most cases, it resolves once you stop moving the area.

However, some people with TMD pain can develop chronic symptoms. An OHP chiropractor or physiotherapist can help you establish whether your pain is due to TMD and can provide conservative treatment if needed.

Causes of TMD

The causes of TMD fall into three categories:

  • Myofascial pain — discomfort or pain in the muscles of the jaw, neck and shoulders;
  • A dislocated jaw or displaced disc;
  • Degenerative joint disease — rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis in the jaw joint.

The leading cause of TMD is severe injury to the jaw. For instance, it can arise from a sporting accident or develop due to overuse, such as in the case of chewing gum excessively.

The once-common practice of sitting in a dentist’s chair for several hours with the mouth wide open may have contributed to TMD in the past. Now, most dentists are aware that this is harmful to the jaw. In addition to taking breaks while they do dental work, today’s dentists also screen patients for any weaknesses in the jaw structure that would make physical injury likely if they keep their mouths open very long. In that case, they may use medications during the procedure to minimize the injury potential, or they may send the patient to physical therapy immediately after treatment. In less severe cases, they instruct patients in exercises they can do at home to loosen up the joint after the visit.

Aside from physical trauma, emotional stress can also lead to TMD, or more particularly the way stress manifests in the body. It is quite common for people who are under psychological stress to clench their teeth, which can play a major factor in their TMD.

Gender has also been identified as a factor. Women experience TMD four times as often as men. Several factors may contribute to this higher ratio, such as posture and higher heels.

Chiropractic Treatment

To help diagnose or rule out TMD, your OHP Kelowna chiropractor may ask you to put three fingers in your mouth and bite down on them. You may also be asked to open and close your mouth and chew repeatedly while the doctor monitors the dimensions of the jaw joint and the balance of the muscles.

If you have no problems while doing these things, then the problem is not likely to be TMD. Your OHP Kelowna chiropractor or physiotherapist can then look for signs of inflammation and abnormalities. Sometimes special imaging, an x-ray or an MRI may be needed to help confirm the diagnosis.

If you have TMD, your doctor may recommend chiropractic manipulation, massage, applying heat/ice and special exercises. In most cases, your doctor’s first goal is to relieve symptoms, particularly pain. If your OHP Kelowna chiropractor or physiotherapist feels that you need special appliances or splints (with the exception of the “waterpack” and other guards against teeth grinding), he or she will refer you to a dentist or orthodontist for co-management.