Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is a problem affecting the ‘chewing’ muscles and the joints between the lower jaw and the base of the skull.
Doctors sometimes refer to the condition as “myofascial pain disorder”.
It’s been estimated that up to 30% of adults will experience TMD at some point in their lives. The condition itself isn’t usually serious, and the symptoms it can cause – including pain, jaw joint clicking or popping, and difficulties eating – usually only last a few months before getting better. However, these symptoms can significantly lower quality of life, and specialist treatment might be required if they’re severe.
What are the symptoms?
TMD can cause:
- clicking, popping or grating noises as you chew or move your mouth
- muscle pain around the jaw
- pain in front of the ear that may spread to the cheek, ear and temple
- difficulty opening the mouth – the jaw may feel tight, as if it is stuck, making eating difficult
- headache or migraine
- earache or a “buzzing” or blocked sensation in the ear
- pain in other areas of the body – such as neckache or backache
These symptoms may lead to related symptoms, such as disturbed sleep.
What are the causes?
Possible causes of TMD include:
- clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth during sleep (bruxism) – which overworks the jaw muscles and puts pressure on the joint (often caused by stress)
- wear and tear of the inside of the jaw joint – usually caused by osteoarthritis
- injury to the jaw joint – for example, after a blow to the face or surgery
- stress – some people may inherit increased sensitivity to pain or stress
- uneven bite – for example, when new fillings, dental crowns or dentures are fitted
- specific diseases – TMD may be associated with specific diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout or fibromyalgia