TMJ: You No Longer Need to Grin and Bear It (Part 1)

Temporomandibular Joint

Temporomandibular JointTemporomandibular Disorder (TMD) is a joint problem in the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, which allows the jaw to move up and down, left to right, and front to back. The TMJ’s also connect the mandiblethe lower jawto the skull. TMJ’s are located on either side in front of your ears. To locate these joints place your fingers in lower front of your ears and move your fingers forward until you find a small depression on either side. When you open and close your mouth you will notice movement. If you also notice pain with the movement, you may have TMD.

TMD was originally thought to be arthritis of the jaw or a problem with the bite. Many sufferers who tried to resolve their problems found they just had to “grin and bear it,” but researchers have since learned the problem originates with the muscles and connective tissue and emanates from disturbances in the TMJ. Because of these new findings, TMD has been reclassified as myofascial pain dysfunction syndrome or MPD. Interestingly, the acronym MPD also stands for multiple-personality disorder, muscle phosphorylase deficiency, and myoproliferative disorder.

Since MPD was first diagnosed, researchers have learned sufferers often do not just have joint or facial pain. There are usually many other medical problems the MPD sufferer is experiencing. Many times a person is being treated for tinnitus, headaches, sleep disorders, swallowing problems, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, allergies, sinus infections, or other problems.

Even though TMJ is now called MPD, people who suffer from it experience a wide range of problems, which include muscle spasms, limited jaw movement, and sometimes debilitating pain. The causes of MPD are complex and reports from the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) maintain over 10 million Americans suffer with MPD. In the last few years, researchers have also learned sufferers tend to be women more often than men (7:1 to as high as 17:1) and most sufferers are between 20 and 40 years old.

What Causes MPD?

The exact cause of MPD is unknown. However, many sufferers seem less able to vent their emotions, and psychological stress or tension seems to produce MPD symptoms. MPD can also be related to trauma, and people who have been in an accident or punched in the face or jaw, may suffer symptoms. Tension-relieving behaviors, such as bruxismgrinding the teethor clenching the jaw, are also important factors in the disease. Both grinding and clenching can change teeth alignment and create facial pain.

Many other contributing factors may result in MPD. For instance, osteoarthritis (which results in cartilage destruction) or rheumatoid arthritis (which causes inflamed joints) contributes significantly to MPD problems. Dental procedures, medical proceduressuch as inserting breathing tubes during surgerymild infections, auto-immune illnesses, and even genetics have caused MPD problems for some sufferers.

More in Part 2, coming soon!

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