I often see patients who believe that they have TMJ – they are experiencing facial pain or ear pain, or their jaw is clicking or popping. Most people believe that this indicative of a serious problem and that surgery must be performed. However, this is a common misconception.
The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, is the joint that connects the jaw to the temporal bones of the skull. While many people believe that they have TMJ, what they are actually saying is that they are having a problem with their TMJ. This is better known as temporomandibular dysfunction, or TMD.
There are three types of TMD: muscular, structural, and acute or trauma-related. Each is caused by a different issue and can present in a unique way.
- Muscular: Muscular issues are the most common type of TMD, and are caused by tightness in the muscles that you chew with. Typically, a patient experiencing a muscular disorder will notice pain in the front of the ear, or pain when chewing. This problem often comes on suddenly and can be related to stress.
- Structural: Degenerative joint disease, or DJD, is the most severe type of TMD and is often cause by structural changes to the jaw. This can result in the teeth shifting to the left or right and changing the way that the upper and lower teeth fit together. The result is intense pain when biting or chewing. To properly diagnose DJD, the patient must have both a MRI and a CT scan performed.
- Acute: The third and final type of TMD is acute, or trauma-related TMD. This can be the result a sports injury or car accident, or a blunt force to the face or chin. The result is damage to the TMJ structure and acute inflammation. Clenching or grinding of the teeth can also cause acute trauma to the TMJ.
For most TMJ problems, treatment begins with a bite guard or behavior modification. For instance, being more careful when chewing or yawning, or avoiding foods that are more difficult to chew. Typically, surgery is only required to treat degenerative joint disease, and even then it is not always necessary.
If you are currently experiencing jaw pain or discomfort, you may be suffering from TMD. For a more definitive diagnosis, call us at (813) 689-4226 and schedule a consultation today.