What is a Temporomandibular Disorder?
Temporomandibular Disorder’ (TMD) is the term used to describe bothersome symptoms related to the temporomandibular joint (jaw) and the surrounding soft tissues including muscles and ligaments.
Symptoms associated with TMD are very common and are reported in approximately 25% of the population, but the symptoms only become bothersome in approximately 5% of those who have TMD symptoms.
Severe TMD symptoms can have a significant effect on quality of life as it can affect the way we eat, and how we communicate at work and socially.
Possible symptoms of TMD can include….
- Pain/tenderness in and around the jaw
- Facial pain
- Headaches, earache and toothache
- Neck pain
- Stiffness/tightness felt in the jaw or face
- Clicking, popping or gritty noises when moving the jaw.
What causes TMD?
TMD can be related to a physically traumatic event such as head trauma, surgery, dental work, or a road traffic collision, however, TMD symptoms usually become bothersome due to a combination of factors including
- Excessive use of the jaw (excessive talking, singing or playing instruments etc)
- Poor mouth habits (chewing pens, lips, nails, chewing gum etc)
- Poor postural habits (slouching, resting your chin on your hand, holding your phone on your shoulder)
- Psychologically stressful times/events (for example, at work or home)
How can I help myself?
Most cases of TMD will resolve quickly without the need for treatment, however, your attitude and the actions you take are the most important factors in preventing long-term problems. The most effective way to manage symptoms of TMD are to
- Identify triggers you can minimise. These can include chewing gum/pens, biting your nails/lips/inside of your mouth, chewing only on one side, eating hard/chewy foods, slumped postures or resting your chin on your hands.
- Talk to your GP or pharmacist about what pain relief may be right for you. If your pain is controlled, you will be able to maintain more movement.
- Apply gentle heat (hot water bottle of microwaveable wheat bag) to reduce pain and muscle spasms and improve mobility.
- Self-massage using your fingertips in a circular motion can reduce pain and muscle spasms.
- Always try to keep your jaw as relaxed as possible.
When should I seek further help?
If symptoms are worsening after 1 week of trying the above strategies, contact your dentist for further assistance. They may refer you to a physiotherapist who can
- Assess your symptoms,
- Help you understand your condition
- Help identify the factors that may be have caused or be aggravating your symptoms and providing advice on how to minimise these,
- Develop symptom management strategies so you always feel in control
- Provide an individualised exercise program to improve mobility and strength in order to address symptoms but also to prevent future episodes.
- Provide manual therapies to improve postural awareness, improve mobility and minimise muscular tension in surrounding muscles.
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