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Temporomandibular Joint Evaluation

Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD, TMJD) is an umbrella term covering pain and dysfunction of the muscles of mastication (the muscles that move the jaw) and the temporomandibular joints (the joints which connect the mandible to the skull). The most important feature is pain, followed by restricted mandibular movement, and noises from the temporomandibular joints (TMJ) during jaw movement. Although TMD is not life-threatening, it can be detrimental to quality of life, because the symptoms can become chronic and difficult to manage.

TMD is a symptom complex rather than a single condition, and it is thought to be caused by multiple factors.  However, these factors are poorly understood, and there is disagreement as to their relative importance. There are many treatments available, although there is a general lack of evidence for any treatment in TMD, and no widely accepted treatment protocol. Common treatments include provision of occlusal splints, psychosocial interventions like cognitive behavioral therapy, and pain medication or others. Most sources agree that no irreversible treatment should be carried out for TMD.

About 20% to 30% of the adult population are affected to some degree. Usually people affected by TMD are between 20 and 40 years of age, and it is more common in females than males. TMD is the second most frequent cause of orofacial pain after dental pain (i.e. toothache)

 

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorder vary in their presentation. The symptoms will usually involve more than one of the various components of the masticatory system, muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, bones, connective tissue, or the teeth.

The three classically described, cardinal signs and symptoms of TMD are:

  • Pain and tenderness on palpation in the muscles of mastication, or of the joint itself (preauricular pain – pain felt just in front of the ear). Pain is the defining feature of TMD and is usually aggravated by manipulation or function, such as when chewing, clenching, or yawning, and is often worse upon waking. The character of the pain is usually dull or aching, poorly localized, and intermittent, although it can sometimes be constant. The pain is more usually unilateral (located on one side) rather than bilateral.  It is rarely severe.
  • Limited range of mandibular movement, which may cause difficulty eating or even talking. There may be locking of the jaw, or stiffness in the jaw muscles and the joints, especially present upon waking.  There may also be incoordination, asymmetry or deviation of mandibular movement.
  • Noises from the joint during mandibular movement, which may be intermittent. Joint noises may be described as clicking or popping.

 

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