A quick internet search for temporomandibular disorders (TMD), sometimes called TMJ disorders, will tell you that it’s a very common condition, affecting 10 million people or possibly more.
These are no small numbers for a disorder that can cause chronic headaches and jaw pain and other bothersome symptoms such as tinnitus, back and neck pain, vertigo, and more. But sadly, despite its prevalence, many people suffer from these symptoms for months or even years while their jaw joint becomes damaged, sometimes permanently.
Why TMJ Problems are So Common
If TMD affects millions of people, there must be a reason for this high incidence in our population. One of the biggest reasons so many people have TMJ problems is because the jaw is such a hard-working, frequently used (and abused) joint.
The jaw is extremely powerful. Have you ever been bitten by a baby or child? Even at a young age, the jaw has the power to crush and break objects. But despite its strength, the jaw has a delicate balance that can easily be thrown off.
The Modern World and the Jaw Joint
The human TMJ, or temporomandibular joint, didn’t evolve to today’s lifestyle of gum chewing, frequent eating, and high stress that leads to grinding and inflammation. When a ligament, bone, or muscle gets thrown off just a bit by too much chewing, talking, stress, or another factor, TMD can begin. And, if the underlying issue isn’t resolved, it can continue to get worse.
Treatment Should be Personalized
While TMD is common, it’s anything but predictable. Many people share common TMD causes, such as stress or improper sleeping position, but the way TMD manifests can be very different from person to person. This may depend upon the shape of a person’s bone structure, what kind of health problems they have, their career, their stress levels, and their lifestyle in general. So while TMD may cause neck pain and trouble sleeping in one person, another person may find that they get frequent headaches and earaches.
This is why seeing a dental professional who specifically diagnoses and treats TMD is so important. A generic approach to treating TMD won’t work, because symptoms and causes are so different for each person. A thorough evaluation of each patient’s symptoms and needs is the best way to find a treatment plan that is effective, safe, and prevents further damage to the TMJ. Each patient is unique, and therefore, their treatment for TMD must be unique as well.