Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD) 一 commonly (and inaccurately) referred to as TMJ 一 is a group of disorders involving the jaw joints, teeth and muscles. Many of us have suffered the profound health, economical, and psychological consequences of Covid-19 this past year. At the dental clinic, we saw an uptick of TMD flare-ups as a result of the pandemic stress. This is because many of us respond to stress by clenching and/or grinding our teeth while sleeping. Symptoms of TMD may include jaw pain, jaw clicking and popping, jaw muscle stiffness, restricted jaw movement (lockjaw), tooth wear, toothaches, headaches, facial pain, pain around eyes and sensitivity to light, earaches, ringing in the ear (tinnitus), and arm or finger numbness. Below we will discuss some of the most common symptoms associated with TMD as well as recommended treatments.

Bruxism: While not technically a type of TMD, Bruxism is often associated with TMD. It involves clenching and grinding of the teeth which leads to excessive tooth wear, gum recession, and notching of teeth at the gum line. Bruxism tends to be lifelong, and while it is usually not painful, it can cause significant damage to teeth if left untreated. The most common treatment is a hard occlusal guard worn mainly at nighttime to minimize damage to the teeth.

Joint Noises: Noises in the jaw joint are abnormal and can present as popping, clicking, or grinding. These noises can be present with or without pain. Joint noises accompanied by pain should be treated, but treatment is not always necessary when pain is not present. Treatment can involve splint therapy (mouth guard, bite plate, or other oral apparatus) and medications.

Myofascial Pain: This develops when the teeth, joints, and muscles do not function in an integrated way. It can manifest a dull pain in most parts of the system (teeth, joint, muscles). Stress is often a contributing factor. Diagnosis can become difficult because pain arises over a wide area and involves multiple structures in the jaw. Treatment can include splint therapy, stress management, physical therapy, massage therapy and medication.

TMD is complex and can be difficult to diagnose and treat. Often, patients can experience a combination of multiple types of TMD along with bruxism at the same time. The sooner TMD is accurately diagnosed, the easier it is to treat and manage symptoms as well as to minimize damage to the teeth. Visit your dentist if you are experiencing TMD symptoms that compromise your quality of life. With proper diagnosis and treatment, TMD symptoms can be managed and/or resolved in time.