Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) is an umbrella term for a number of chronic jaw problems. These conditions cause recurring pain for 10 to 30 million Americans, especially women of childbearing age.
But even after decades of treatment and research, a full understanding of TMD's underlying causes eludes us. That doesn't mean, however, that we haven't made progress—we have indeed amassed a good deal of knowledge and experience with TMD and how best to treat it.
A recent survey of over a thousand TMD patients helps highlight the current state of affairs about what we know regarding these disorders, and where the future may lie in treatment advances. Here are a few important findings gleaned from that survey.
Possible causes. When asked what they thought triggered their TMD episodes, the top answers from respondents were trauma, stress and teeth clenching habits. This fits in with the consensus among experts, who also include genetic disposition and environmental factors. Most believe that although we haven't pinpointed exact causes, we are over the target.
Links to other disorders. Two-thirds of survey respondents also reported suffering from three or more other pain-related conditions, including fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and chronic headaches. These responses seem to point to possible links between TMD and other pain-related disorders. If this is so, it could spur developments in better diagnostic methods and treatment.
The case against surgery. Surgical procedures have been used in recent years to treat TMD. But in the survey, of those who have undergone surgery only one-third reported any significant relief. In fact, 46% considered themselves worse off. Most providers still recommend a physical joint therapy approach first for TMD: moist heat or ice, massage and exercises and medications to control muscle spasms and pain.
These findings underscore one other important factor—there is no “one size fits all” approach to TMD management. As an individual patient, a custom-developed action plan of therapy, medication, and lifestyle and diet practices is the best way currently to reduce the effects of TMD on your life.
If you would like more information on TMD management and treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Chronic Jaw Pain and Associated Conditions.”
Most of what goes on inside our mouths—good or bad—is fairly predictable. But every now and then, people encounter something out of the ordinary. A good example is lichen planus.
Lichen planus are rare skin lesions that can occur on various parts of the skin, including inside the mouth. The name comes from their lacy appearance, which resembles a fungus that grows on rocks or trees called lichen.
Being similar in appearance, though, is all that lichen planus has in common with its fungal namesake. It's believed that the sores are caused by a reaction of the immune system mistaking some of the body's cells as foreign.
But don't let the exotic sounding name alarm you—true lichen planus is considered a benign mouth sore. You may not even realize you have it until your dentist notices and points it out. But the lesions can sometimes cause mild pain or burning, especially if they occur near the gums or if you indulge in spicy or acidic foods.
As we said, these lesions aren't considered dangerous. But in a small number of cases, oral cancer was found to develop later. It's unclear whether the lesions were related to the cancer, or if what were diagnosed as lichen planus lesions were actually pre-cancerous cells mimicking the appearance of the benign sore.
In any event, your dentist will probably continue to monitor the lesions and possibly conduct regular oral cancer screenings to be on the safe side. You may also want to stop using tobacco or alcohol products to further decrease your risk of oral cancer.
As to managing lichen planus, it starts with a daily habit of brushing and flossing. You'll also want to avoid spicy or acidic foods like citrus fruits, tomatoes, peppers or caffeinated drinks, especially during flareups. If the lesions are causing discomfort, your dentist may also prescribe a topical steroid to apply to them.
Since it's quite possible you won't know if you have lichen planus (as well as other types of mouth sores) unless your dentist observes them, you should keep up regular dental visits. Having your dentist check your entire mouth, not just your teeth and gums, will help both of you stay on top of your oral health.
If you would like more information on mouth sores, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Lichen Planus.”
Dinnertime is a great opportunity to enjoy not only your meal, but also the company of friends and family. But a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) can drain the pleasure from these dining experiences if the mere act of chewing is a painful ordeal.
Besides curbing pleasure while dining, eating difficulties caused by TMD can also affect your health: You may find yourself limiting your choices to only those that cause the least amount of discomfort. But those restricted choices may deprive you of a balanced diet essential to overall well-being.
But there are ways to reduce your discomfort and enjoy a greater abundance of healthy foods, as well as your dining experience. Here are 3 tips to make eating easier if you have TMD.
Prepare your food. Easing TMD discomfort starts while you're preparing your food to cook. First off, remove the tougher peel or skin from apples, potatoes or similar fruits and vegetables. And, be sure to chop foods into small enough pieces to reduce how much your jaws must open to comfortably chew your food.
Choose “wetter” cooking methods. One of the best ways to soften foods is to moisten them, either during the cooking process or by adding it in some form to the dish. Use braising techniques when you cook as much as possible. And try to incorporate sauces or gravies, especially with leaner meats, for added moisture.
Modify your eating habits. Food prep is only one aspect of a more comfortable dining experience with TMD—you can also benefit from modifying how you eat. Concentrate on taking smaller bites of food and slow down your chewing motion. You should also limit how much you open your jaw while chewing to keep it within your comfort range as much as possible.
With a little experimentation, you can find the right balance between a wide variety of foods and more comfortable eating. If you have TMD, using these tips could help mealtime become a delightful—and more nutritious—experience.
If you would like more information on managing TMD, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “What to Eat When TMJ Pain Flares Up.”
Ashley Graham has a beautiful and valuable smile—an important asset to her bustling career as a plus-size model and television host. But she recently revealed on Instagram a “confrontation” between one of her teeth and a frozen oatmeal cookie. The cookie won.
Holding her hand over her mouth during the video until the last moment, Graham explained how she sneaked a cookie from her mom's freezer and took a bite of the frozen treat. Taking her hand from her mouth, she revealed her broken tooth.
Okay, maybe it wasn't an actual tooth that was broken: the denticle in question appeared to have been previously altered to accommodate a porcelain veneer or crown. But whatever was once there wasn't there anymore.
Although her smile was restored without too much fuss, Graham's experience is still a cautionary tale for anyone with dental work (and kudos to her for being a good sport and sharing it). Although dental work in general is quite durable, it is not immune to damage. Biting down on something hard, even as delicious as one of mom's frozen oatmeal cookies, could run you the risk of popping off a veneer or loosening a crown.
To paraphrase an old saying: Take care of your dental work, and it will take care of you. Don't use your teeth in ways that put your dental work at risk, tempting as it may be given your mouth's mechanical capabilities.
Even so, it's unwise—both for dental work and for natural teeth—to use your teeth and jaws for tasks like cracking nuts or prying open containers. You should also avoid biting into foods or substances with hard textures like ice or a rock-hard cookie from the freezer, especially if you have veneers or other cosmetic improvements.
It's equally important to clean your mouth daily, and undergo professional cleanings at least twice a year. That might not seem so important at first since disease-causing organisms won't infect your dental work's nonliving materials. But infection can wreak havoc on natural tissues like gums, remaining teeth or underlying bone that together often support dental enhancements. Losing that support could lead to losing your dental work.
And it's always a good idea to have dental work, particularly dentures, checked regularly. Conditions in the mouth can change, sometimes without you noticing them, so periodic examinations by a trained dental provider could prevent or treat a problem before it adversely affects your dental work.
We're glad Ashley Graham's trademark smile wasn't permanently harmed by that frozen cookie, and yours probably wouldn't be either in a similar situation. But don't take any chances, and follow these common sense tips for protecting your dental work.
If you would like more information on care and maintenance of cosmetic dental work, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers: Strength & Beauty as Never Before” and “Dental Implant Maintenance.”
There's a lot to like about porcelain veneers, especially as you get older. For one, they can be less expensive and invasive than other cosmetic restorations. More importantly, though, they're versatile—they can solve a variety of dental appearance problems.
Veneers are thin shells of porcelain that are bonded to the front of teeth to alter their appearance—a work of custom art crafted by a dental technician to fit an individual patient's dental needs. They can turn back the clock on a less than attractive smile, and, with a little care, could last for years.
Here are some dental appearance problems you might encounter in your later years that veneers may help you improve.
Discoloration. As we get older, our teeth color can change—and not for the better. Teeth whitening temporarily brightens dull and dingy teeth, but the effect will fade over time. Additionally, there are some forms of staining, particularly those arising from within a tooth, for which external whitening can't help. Veneers can mask discoloration and give a new, permanent shine to teeth.
Unattractive shape. As we age, wearing on teeth can cause them to appear shorter and create sharper angles around the edges. Veneers can be used to restore length and soften the shape of teeth. Because veneers can be customized, we can actually create a tooth shape that you believe will improve your appearance.
Dental flaws. A lifetime of biting and chewing, not to mention a chance injury, can lead to chips, cracks or other dental defects. But veneers can cover over unsightly flaws that cause you to be less confident in your smile. Veneers can give you back the smile you once had or, if you were born with dental flaws, the smile you never had.
Misalignments. The biting forces we encounter throughout our lifetime can move teeth out of alignment, or widen gaps between them. You can undergo orthodontic treatment to correct these misalignments problems, but if they're relatively minor, we may be able to use veneers to “straighten” your smile.
If you're concerned about the effects of aging on your smile, veneers could help you look younger. Visit us for a full dental evaluation to see if a veneer restoration is right for you.
If you would like more information on porcelain veneers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Porcelain Veneers: Strength & Beauty as Never Before.”
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