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The jaw joints and groups of muscles that let us chew, swallow, speak and yawn are known as the temporomandibular. When there's a problem with how the joints and muscles work, you may have a temporomandibular disorder or TMD.
The symptoms of TMDs are:
Cause and Effect
The cause of TMD is not always clear, but in most cases stress is a major factor. Here are some of the things that MAY cause it:
Other things that MAY lead to TMD are:
What you can do
1. Relax. Be aware of when you are clenching your teeth. Try to relax your jaw muscles and keep them relaxed. If you need help learning to relax, there are courses that can teach you. Ask your dentist or doctor.
2. Watch what you eat. Stay away from hard or sticky foods. Do not chew gum. Eat a soft diet and cut food into small pieces. Try not to open your mouth too wide, even when you yawn.
3. Massage and exercise. Rub (or massage) and stretch (or exercise) your jaw muscles. This may help ease stress, just like it does with other muscles in your body. But be gentle. Too much stretching or exercising could make the problem worse.
4. Use a compress. Your dentist may suggest putting a cold or warm compress on your sore jaw muscles, then rubbing (or massaging) them gently to help ease tense muscles. For a cold compress, use ice cubes wrapped in a towel, or a bag of frozen vegetables such as peas. For a warm compress, use a hot water bottle or heating pad wrapped in a towel, or a hot, damp cloth.
5. Remember the saying, "Lips together ... teeth apart." When you are relaxed:
Try to keep your upper and lower teeth apart, except when you are eating or swallowing.
6. Think positively. Almost all TMD patients get better, but there is no "easy cure." For some patients, once they know that they clench their jaws, they make an effort to relax. They can ease their symptoms in a few days or weeks. For others, it may take several weeks or several months before they feel better.
How your dentist can help
To judge your condition, your dentist:
Depending on what your dentist finds, he or she may suggest a plan to treat your TMD. Your dentist may also refer you to a dental specialist with extra training in TMDs. This could be an oral surgeon (also called an oral and maxillofacial surgeon), an oral pathologist, an orthodontist, a periodontist or a prosthodontist. If your dentist refers you to a dental specialist, he or she will explain what that specialist does.
Treatment may include: