Treating TMD: A Cautious Approach

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the ball-and-socket joint where the jawbone (mandible) meets the temporal bone of the skull. Everyone has two TMJs, one on the left side and one on the right. TMD (Temporomandibular Joint Disorders) is a group of diseases that cause pain and dysfunction in the TMJ. Not everyone has TMD — but if you do, it can be a painful condition. Are you with me so far?

Good! The problem is how best to recognize and treat TMD, which has been called “the great impostor” because it can be confused with those of many other conditions. Its symptoms include clicking or popping sounds coming from the jaw joint, especially when accompanied by pain; feeling the jaw is “stuck” in the open or closed position; and pain in the muscles of the jaw, cheeks, or temples.

Once, it was thought that aggressive treatments like orthodontics, tooth restorations, or even surgery were needed to treat TMD. Today, we know that most cases of TMD can be effectively resolved with more conservative therapies. We can recommend gentle stretching exercises, the use of ice or heat, a temporary change to a softer diet, and over-the-counter or prescription medications. Only after these approaches have been tried should any more aggressive treatment for TMD be contemplated.

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