That familiar clicking and jaw pain is back, do you need to see a specialist and, if so, what kind? Temporomandibular disorder is one of those chronic conditions that fall between the realms of dentistry and standard medicine, so it is easy to get confused. The treatment requires a specialized dental care plan. Once you understand more about the condition and the available treatment options, the reasons why you need to see a prosthodontist become clearer.  

What is TMD?

The Mayo Clinic defines temporomandibular joint dysfunction, or TMD, as an umbrella term for pain in the jaw joint and the muscles that control it. The temporomandibular joint is what allows you to chew, yawn and speak clearly. With TMD, there may be a number of problems working together to put strain on the musculature of that joint.

During TMD flare-ups, the muscles and hinge joint on one or both sides of your face becomes inflamed. Every time you open your mouth, you further aggravate that area, increasing the inflammation and pain.

The exact reason of your TMD is difficult to define, but it usually involves a breakdown of the joint. For example:

  • The disk that cushions the joint degrades causing it to come out of alignment.
  • The cartilage in the joint becomes damaged by diseases like arthritis.
  • There is trauma to the joint.

Even though it is the muscles in the jaw joint causing you pain, it is due to an underlying problem that is most likely dental, such as night grinding. The treatment is dental, as well. That is why your best option is a dental specialist like a prosthodontist.

What are the Symptoms of TMD?

The Canadian Dental Association lists the symptoms of temporomandibular disorder as:

  • Sore or painful jaw muscles
  • Difficulty opening and closing your mouth
  • Headaches
  • Neck pain
  • A clicking or grinding noise coming from one or both sides of your jaw

Successful treatment involves dealing with the underlying cause of the problem such as:

  • Grinding of the teeth, especially night grinding
  • Traumatic injury, such as a broken jaw bone that failed to heal correctly
  • Worn or missing teeth
  • Gum disease
  • Poorly fitting dentures
  • Congenital jaw malformation

The right treatment plan can mean relief from jaw pain for the rest of your life.

What Treatment Options do Prosthodontists Use for TMD?

A prosthodontist will evaluate your jaw health and diagnose the cause of the TMD and then create a comprehensive care plan to manage your condition. The care plan may include a mix of drug, physical and dental therapies designed to allow the jaw to heal.

It will start with getting control of the pain. If over-the-counter pain medication is not enough, the doctor may prescribe a stronger pain reliever, a muscle relaxant and possibly a sleep aid to help curtail nighttime teeth clenching.

Once the pain is managed, the prosthodontist will treat the underlying cause like adjusting tooth alignment with braces, dentures or dental implants. In some cases, a specialist may opt to reshape teeth to improve the alignment. A prosthodontist can also design an occlusal splint, or night guard, to help the jaw muscles relax.

Physical therapy educates you on home treatments to reduce swelling, such icing the joint and provides an exercise program to strengthen the jaw muscles.

What you do at home to manage TMD is just as important as dental treatment. If you are prone to clicking or pain, avoid foods that overwork the jaw like taffy or gum. You can also massage the muscles around the mouth if they feel tense and tight. When home treatment fails to provide relief, make an appointment with a prosthodontist for a specialized plan.