Category Archives: TMD

Treating TMD Like Other Joint-Related Problems


After ruling out other causes for your jaw pain, your doctor or dentist has made a diagnosis: a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). With TMD, your pain symptoms and other dysfunctions are due to a problem associated with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) that connects your lower jaw (mandible) to your upper skull (cranium).

There are a number of treatment options, but most can be classified as either aggressive or conservative. Aggressive treatments are more interventional and target problems with the teeth such as bite problems or jaw relationships as they relate to the bite, which are thought to be underlying causes for TMD. Such treatments include orthodontics to realign teeth, crown or bridgework, or surgical treatment to the jaw or joint itself. These treatments are controversial and irreversible — with no guarantee of symptom relief.

It’s thought by many to be appropriate, then, to start with more conservative treatments. Many of these are based on treating the TMJ — which is a joint, a moveable bony structure connected by muscles and tendons — with an orthopedic approach, using treatments similar to those used for other joint problems.

Here, then, are some of those conservative therapies that may relieve your TMD pain and other symptoms.

Physical Therapy. Commonly used to treat pain and dysfunction in other joints, physical therapies like manual manipulation, massage, alternating hot and cold packs or exercises can be used to relax, stretch or retrain the muscles that operate the TMJ while reducing pain and inflammation.

Medications. Medications may be incorporated into the treatment plan to relieve pain, reduce inflammation or relax tense muscles. Besides prescription drugs, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen) are also commonly used.

Bite Appliances. If night-time teeth grinding or clenching habits are a primary cause for the TMD, you may benefit from wearing an occlusal bite guard while you sleep, designed to specifically fit your upper teeth. Because the lower teeth can’t grip the guard’s smooth plastic surface when biting down, they’ll more likely produce less force. This gives the jaw muscles a chance to relax during sleep.

Diet changes. Changing to softer foods, which don’t require strenuous chewing, and eliminating the chewing gum habit will further help reduce stress on the TMJs and also give your muscles a chance to relax and heal.

If you would like more information on TMD and treatment options, please contact us by calling (815) 741-1700. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Seeking Relief from TMD.”

Chronic Jaw Pain: What to do About TMJ Disorders


Many people suffer from problems with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ); this can result in chronic pain and severely limit the function of the jaw. Yet exactly what causes the problems, how best to treat them… and even the precise number of people affected (estimates range from 10 million to 36 million) are hotly debated topics.

There are, however, a few common threads that have emerged from a recent survey of people who suffer from temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJD). Some of them are surprising: For example, most sufferers are women of childbearing age. And two-thirds of those surveyed say they experienced three or more associated health problems along with TMJD; these include fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic headaches, depression, and sleep disturbances. The links between these threads aren’t yet clear.

The survey also revealed some interesting facts about treating TMJD. One of the most conservative treatments — thermal therapy (hot or cold compresses) — was found by 91% to offer the most effective relief of symptoms. By contrast, the most invasive treatment—surgery—was a mixed bag: A slightly higher percentage reported that surgery actually made the condition worse compared to those who said it made them better.

So what should you do if you think you may have TMJD? For starters, it’s certainly a good idea to see a dentist to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms. If you do have TMJD, treatment should always begin with some conservative therapies: moist heat or cold packs, along with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications if you can tolerate them. Eating a softer diet, temporarily, may also help. If you’re considering more invasive treatments, however, be sure you understand all the pros and cons — and the alternatives — before you act. And be sure to get a second opinion before surgery.

If you would like more information about temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJD), please contact us by calling (815) 741-1700. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Chronic Jaw Pain And Associated Conditions” and “Seeking Relief from TMD.”

Stress May be Causing that Pain in Your Jaw

stress and TMJ.

Stress is the body’s normal response to an emergency. But it can quickly get out of control when a person reacts to everyday events and situations in a stressful manner. Not only does this take a mental toll on a person, it can also result in physical problems as well.

We’re all familiar with some of those problems: aches and pains, gastrointestinal problems, dizziness, elevated heart rate and susceptibility to infections. But stress can also have an effect on a person’s oral health. Among other causes, stress may play a role in temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD.

The temporomandibular joints (TMJ) are located on either side of the mandible (lower jaw) where the jaw contacts the skull. The structure of the TMJ allows for forward and sideways movement of the jaw, which facilitates eating, drinking, chewing and speaking.

Sometimes, however, a traumatic stimulant can cause muscle spasms and other reactions within the joint, which can lead to severe pain. The stimulant could be metabolic, mechanical or — in the case of stress — psychological.

In some individuals the stress reaction develops into habitually clenching or grinding their teeth. The person may not even realize this is occurring, or it might even occur in their sleep. Over time the impact of this constant force leads to spasms in the muscles connected to the TMJs as a protective reaction to the clenching or grinding.

Treatment for TMD requires a strategy and may incorporate a number of different options. Dentists may recommend the application of heat, pain and/or muscle relaxation medication, jaw exercises, and a bite guard. In the case of stress-induced TMD an important option might be professional assistance in learning how to deal with stress — relaxation training or even biofeedback therapy with a trained therapist.

If you would like more information about TMD and how stress may play a role in it, please contact us by calling (815) 741-1700 or complete our TMJ questionnaire online. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “TMD — Understanding the Great Imposter.”