Temporomandibular disorders are a group of problems that cause pain and poor function in the jaw joint and the muscles responsible for jaw movement. They’re also called TMD, or TMJ (short for temporomandibular joint) disorders.
TMD can be just a nuisance — or it can be a life-altering problem. When it’s less severe, crunching down on a hard bit of food can shoot a bolt of pain through the jaw joint — unpleasant, to be sure, but not serious. With time and simple home care, the pain usually subsides.
But with severe TMD, simple tasks, such as eating or talking, can no longer be taken for granted. “It can be incredibly debilitating,” says Matthew J. Messina, DDS, a dentist in Cleveland and a spokesman for the American Dental Association.
For some people, the disc within the jaw joint slips out of position during sleep, he says. “All of a sudden, they’ll wake up in the morning and they can’t open their mouth more than 10 millimeters and a normal opening is 50 millimeters or so. So imagine you’re trying to eat breakfast and you can’t open your mouth wide enough to get the toast in there. That can be very panicking.”
If you believe that you might have TMD, where do you start seeking help?
Signs of Trouble
When symptoms of TMD surface, they might include:
- Pain in the chewing muscles or jaw joint
- Pain in the jaw, neck, or face
- Stiff jaw muscles
- A jaw that locks or has limited movement
- Painful clicking, popping, or grating in the jaw joint
- Changes in the fit between upper and lower teeth
TMD may affect more than 10 million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health. Women are affected more often than men.