If you're suffering from jaw pain or impaired function, it may not be the only source of chronic pain in your body. Of the millions of adults with temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD), many have also been diagnosed — among other conditions — with fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis or sleep problems.
TMD is actually a group of painful disorders that affect the jaw joints, muscles and surrounding tissues. Besides pain, other symptoms include popping, clicking or grating sounds during jaw movement and a restricted range of motion for the lower jaw. Although we can't yet pinpoint a definite cause, TMD is closely associated with stress, grinding and clenching habits or injury.
It's not yet clear about the possible connections between TMD and other systemic conditions. But roughly two-thirds of those diagnosed with TMD also report three or more related health conditions. Debilitating pain and joint impairment seem to be the common thread among them all. The similarities warrant further research in hopes of new treatment options for each of them.
As for TMD, current treatment options break down into two basic categories: a traditional, conservative approach and a more interventional one. Of the first category, at least 90% of individuals find relief from treatments like thermal therapy (like alternating hot and cold compresses to the jaw), physical therapy, medication or mouth guards to reduce teeth clenching.
The alternative approach, surgery, seeks to correct problems with the jaw joints and supporting muscles. The results, however, have been mixed: in one recent survey a little more than a third of TMD patients who underwent surgery saw any improvement; what's more alarming, just under half believed their condition worsened after surgery.
With that in mind, most dentists recommend the first approach initially for TMD. Only if those therapies don't provide satisfactory relief or the case is extreme, would we then consider surgery. It's also advisable for you to seek a second opinion if you're presented with a surgical option.
Hopefully, further research into the connections between TMD and other inflammatory diseases may yield future therapies. The results could help you enjoy a more pain-free life as well as a healthy mouth.
If you would like more information on TMD, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Chronic Jaw Pain and Associated Conditions.”