What is TMD and How is it Treated?
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What is TMD and How is it Treated?

You’ve likely heard of someone having TMJ or TMD before. You may have heard it called lockjaw or something similar. TMD stands for Temporomandibular Disorders and TMJ, a close associate, stands for the joint itself. Most likely, when folks mention having TMJ, they are referring to the disorder of the Temporomandibular Joint.

What is TMD or TMJ?

Temporomandibular disorders arise from problems with the occlusion - the contact between teeth - the joint, the bones, the nerves in the area, and the surrounding muscles of the face that move the jaw and control chewing action.

There are a few forms of these disorders that the National Institute of Dental Craniofacial Research classifies. You can have one or more of these forms at the same time.

Myofascial Pain

The most common form of TMD is myofascial pain which is the discomfort and/or pain in the connective tissue covering the muscles - called fascia - and the muscles themselves that control the function of the neck, jaw, and shoulders.

Internal Derangement of the Joint

When the jaw is dislocated or a displaced disk, injury to the condyle - the rounded end of the jawbone - occurs, this form of the disorder is diagnosed.

Degenerative Joint Disease

Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis of the jaw joint can create this form of TMD.

What Causes TMD?

All the causes for TMD aren’t fully known but there are many things we’ve come to recognize as some of the sources of the issues that lead to TMD. Most are from problems with the muscles of the jaw and joints itself, as well as some poor habits that may be resolved with minor appliances or treatments.

It is also believed that painful chronic conditions like fibromyalgia or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) may worsen the effects of TMD.

What are the Symptoms of TMD?

There are a number of symptoms for TMD that together may indicate TMD.

How is TMD Diagnosed?

Since many of the symptoms of TMD can easily be those of other conditions and diseases, there are some clues that lead to the diagnosis of TMD by your dentist.

At Orthodontist of Cerritos, we will start by asking about your medical health and oral health history. Something in that list of previous conditions or ailments may give direct information to lead to a diagnosis.

Next, you’ll have an examination of your jaw joints, checking for pain, tenderness, swelling, clicking or popping, or other signs of the condition. Your dentist will also check that your bite is working properly, the jaw is moving as it should, and look for any problems with your facial muscles. From here, a full face X-ray may be required to view your jaws, TMJs, and teeth to rule out any other problems.

If the diagnosis isn’t clear, your dentist may order additional tests like a CT or MRI to view the details of the jaw, joint, and discs to see the impact of the disorder and assess the proper treatment from there.

You may also be referred to an oral surgeon called an oral and maxillofacial surgeon if the care level for your condition is beyond the equipment capabilities or specialization of your dentist.

How is TMD Treated?

There are a number of treatment methods that Orthodontist of Cerritos may be able to employ to treat your TMD, depending on the severity or type of TMD you have.


The first stage of treatment usually involves a prescription for higher dose NSAIDs to help with any pain or swelling that you’re currently dealing with. A muscle relaxer may also be prescribed, as well, if tension or stress appear to be a source of the condition.

Sometimes, anti-anxiety medications are prescribed to relieve stress or anxiety that cause a patient to grind the teeth.

Splints or Night Guards

If grinding or clenching of teeth is a contributing cause of the TMD, your dentist will prescribe that you purchase either a splint or night guard to correct your bite or reduce the source of the issue, respectively.

Splints are worn all the time, while night guards are worn only while you sleep to prevent you from grinding your teeth.

Dental Work

Your dentist may replace any missing teeth or use appliances like crowns, bridges, or braces, to fix damaged teeth or correct your bite.

Radio Wave Therapy

Blood flow may be increased through the use of radio wave stimulation on the jaw joint. This is sometimes enough to reduce the pain levels and other effects of TMD.

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

This therapy uses low levels of electrical current to relax your facial muscles and jaw joints to relieve pain and release tension created by TMD. This treatment is often needed several times so you may need to visit the dentist more often for a period or you may be able to do the therapy at home.

Trigger Point Injections

Pain medication or anesthesia may be injected into the facial muscles in “trigger point” locations to relieve tension in the jaw and reduce pain.

Ultrasound Heat

Specific types of ultrasounds may be used to produce deep heat treatment which is applied to the jaw joint to improve mobility and relieve pain.

Low Level Laser Therapy

This therapy uses low level - i.e. non dangerous - lasers to reduce inflammation and pain, as well as restore movement to your mouth, neck, and shoulders.


In more severe cases, surgery may be required to treat TMD.

If you’re experiencing any symptoms you’re concerned about, call us today at Orthodontist of Cerritos at (562) 203-0549 to schedule an appointment!


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