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Is Your Headache Related to TMD?

Author: mcymer Posted: October 10th, 2019 Category:
Persistent headaches or jaw discomfort may be signs that you have a temporomandibular disorder, or TMD. Find out more about the symptoms and the many ways TMD can be treated. The temporomandibular joint (or TMJ) is the spot on either side of your face where the jawbone connects to the skull. Between the two bones is a soft cartilage disk, which functions as a cushion and allows the jaw to smoothly open and close like a well-oiled hinge. When your jaw is working is working properly, you hardly even notice it. But there are a variety of jaw problems — from improper occlusion (the contact between teeth) to issues with the musculature of the face and neck — that can lead to temporomandibular disorders, or TMD.

What Is TMD?

TMD refers to a variety of painful symptoms affecting the jaw joint and the muscles that allow you to open and close your jaw. While the exact cause of TMD can be difficult to determine — it’s affected by a variety of factors, including your genetics, previous injuries, and dental history — there are a few common ways a disorder can develop: 
  • The cartilage cushion between the jaw and the skull gets worn down or slips out of place.
  • Conditions such as arthritis (rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, especially) or connective tissue diseases damage the cartilage.
  • A blow or injury damages the joint.
  • Chronic teeth grinding or clenching strains the jaw and leads to damage over time.

What Are the Symptoms?

The following may be signs that you have a jaw disorder:
  • You’re experiencing pain or tenderness in the jaw or temporomandibular joints.
  • You have an aching pain located in or around your ear and face.
  • Chewing has become difficult or painful.
  • Your jaw locks, or you’re having difficulty opening or closing your mouth.
  • You feel a clicking or grating sensation when you chew.
  • Your teeth feel like they aren’t lining up properly.
Other common symptoms of TMD include headaches, toothaches, dizziness, and even hearing problems. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than ten million Americans are affected by TMD. If you’re experiencing persistent jaw pain or having trouble opening and closing your jaw, you’re not alone — consider seeking medical attention to see if you have TMD. 

How Is It Diagnosed?

A dentist will examine your jaw and your medical history when determining whether you have TMD. This can include listening to and feeling your jaw, or applying pressure to identify the places where you feel pain and tenderness.  If your dentist suspects you have TMD, they may suggest dental X-rays, a CT scan, or an MRI in order to confirm. In some cases, the dentist may perform what is known as a TMJ arthroscopy, which involves inserting a very small, thin tube with an attached camera into the jaw joint to visually assess the issue.

Prevention and Treatment Options

In many cases, the symptoms of TMD are temporary and can be managed at home without the need for surgery. Over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and acetaminophen are often helpful, as are some muscle relaxers.  There are also non-medical ways to treat jaw discomfort, including using ice packs or cold compresses, eating soft foods, and gently massaging the muscles of the jaw and neck. A jaw care professional may also recommend wearing a splint or mouth guard while sleeping, which can often help to relieve jaw pressure. In some cases, physical therapy and acupuncture may provide relief. If TMD persists and doesn’t respond to self-managed care, your doctor or dentist may suggest surgery. Surgical options for TMD can range from minimally invasive outpatient procedures to total joint replacement, depending on the severity and nature of your symptoms.  At Espire Dental, we provide treatment options for a variety of dental issues, including TMD. If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of TMD, contact us today to set up an appointment. We’ll work with you to help diagnose and find the right course of treatment to alleviate your jaw pain.