Neither pain emanating from the jaw, nor clicking sounds coming from one or both of them automatically signify temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). However, since these are two of the most common symptoms of TMD, it pays to have these conditions checked in the event the disorder does, indeed, exist. A clicking or popping jaw, unless accompanied by pain, is not considered in and of itself to be indicative of TMD; however, when pain and the clicking/popping occur simultaneously, a problem may very well be present.
Once TMD has been diagnosed as the underlying cause of jaw pain by a qualified neuromuscular dentist (accompanied or not by the clicking or popping sounds), treatment should begin with the most conservative approaches. Some of these include:
- Heat and cold therapies
- Stretching exercises
- Anti-inflammatory medication
- A stabilization splint or bite guard
When More Help is Needed
If these treatments do not improve the condition, more aggressive procedures may be necessary to properly align the teeth, such as:
- Braces (orthodontics)
- Smoothing and reshaping teeth enamel (coronoplasty)
- The placement of crowns to make the teeth higher (reconstruction)
The most radical treatments for TMD are considered invasive, that is, body tissues are invaded by either injections or surgery. Sometimes steroids may be injected directly into the joint as a treatment when less aggressive measures have already been taken. Surgery, an irreversible procedure, should be thoroughly discussed before undertaken and always used as a last resort to correct any medical problem, including TMD.
One of the most exciting TMD treatment aids is the transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit. This new technology allows the dentist to not only administer almost immediate pain relief, but also allows the doctor to establish at what position the jaw is most relaxed and comfortable, and to use that information (such as appropriate bite placement) if the need for an appliance is determined for further treatment.
When to Seek Professional Advice
TMD is somewhat of a mysterious malady. No one really knows what causes it and in many cases, its symptoms may disappear altogether with no treatment at all. But if you have been experiencing pain, discomfort , tenderness with or without clicking or popping sounds in the jaw for more than a few months, it’s time to seek the advice of a professional qualified to specifically treat TMD.