Temporomandibular joint disorder, also known as TMD, describes a collection of symptoms resulting from conditions that affect the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). While an estimated 10 million people in the US suffer from TMJ problems, TMD often goes undiagnosed and untreated. Patients often end up with extreme pain for years. When symptoms first start, they can be mild or intermittent, but over time, they can worsen and even become quite sever. Additionally, people (as well as their physicians) may not make the connection between their symptoms, like ear pain or headaches, and TMD.

Some common signs of TMD

  • jaw pain or tenderness
  • ear pain
  • difficulty or pain when chewing
  • facial pain
  • headaches
  • clicking or popping in the jaw joint

What causes TMD?

It’s not always easy to pinpoint the causes of TMD; however, here are some of the most common ones:

  • Malocclusion — If your bite is misaligned or uncomfortable, it can affect the jaw muscles and joints.
  • Trauma — A direct blow to the face or jaw or an injury from a car accident can have long-term effects even after healing.
  • Mouth Breathing — People who breathe predominantly through their mouths tend to strain jaw ligaments.
  • Clenching — Also known as bruxism, jaw clenching and teeth grinding teeth usually occurs during sleep.

How we diagnose TMD

At your first appointment, our team will perform a thorough exam of your jaws, neck and head. We will ask you about your health and your medical history and review your dental history. We will also ask you about your symptoms. All of this information together will help us understand which X-rays or tests to order so we can determine the best course of treatment for you.

Things you can do at home to help with TMD

If you are feeling pain or discomfort associated with TMD, there are some things you can do at home to alleviate your symptoms while you are waiting for your diagnosis and treatment plan, including:

Change your diet

Try to eat mostly soft foods that do not require your jaws to work hard. We recommend incorporating foods like scrambled eggs, baked potatoes, soup, pasta, and canned fruits and vegetables into your diet and cutting your food into small pieces. It also helps if you don’t take large bites or bite directly into something, like an apple or a sandwich. Do your best to stay away from hard or chewy foods like crusty bread, pretzels and chips, hard candies, raw vegetables and fruits, etc. Chewing gum is also something to avoid.

Apply warm, moist heat

A warm compress can temporarily relieve muscle pain, tenderness, and swelling. Place a small damp hand towel in the microwave and heat for 30 seconds. Check to make sure the temperature is comfortable — the towel should be very warm but not hot enough to burn your skin. Wrap the warm damp towel under your chin and up to both sides of your cheeks, ending at your jaw joints. Repeat this process as needed. It can take several applications before you feel the effects. Warm moist heat is especially helpful before bedtime and first thing in the morning.