The most common musculoskeletal condition is chronic lower back pain. Everyone knows what chronic lower back pain is. The second most common musculoskeletal condition is temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder. Unless you suffer from it, you may not know exactly what temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder is, although you’ve probably heard its abbreviated name, TMJ or—more accurately—TMD.

Background: TMJ and TMD

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is in front of your ear, and it connects your jaw to your skull. Problems with this joint were once referred to as TMJ, which refers specifically to the joint itself. In recent years, the nomenclature has changed to reflect a range of afflictions related to the joint, now called TMD for temporomandibular disorders.

The National Institutes of Health says TMJ is one of the most complicated joints in the human body because it moves in multiple directions. Knees and elbows move back and forth in one direction; however, the TMJ has to provide up-and-down motion as well as a sliding, back-and-forth, side-to-side motion. Usually, the more complicated, the greater the chance of something going wrong, and the TMJ is no exception.

Statistics on TMD are generally vague. Research by Drayer Physical Therapy Institute found that 20 to 80 percent of the U.S. population is affected by TMD. That’s a pretty broad range. Because a majority of people experience some form of temporary TMD throughout their lives and never seek treatment, accurate statistics are difficult to find.

The TMJ Association claims approximately 12 percent of the population, or 35 million people, suffer from TMD. They also say scientists have found that most patients with TMD have the expected jaw and facial pain, but may also experience painful conditions in other parts of the body. TMD is more commonly found in those who also experience chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic headache, endometriosis, fibromyalgia, interstitial cystitis, irritable bowel syndrome, low back pain, and sleep disorders. Also, based on those who seek help, 90 percent of TMD patients are women.

To see why TMD is so common, it’s important to consider what the jaw does. The jaw is extremely powerful, able to crush hard objects. And yet, the construction of the jaw is fairly delicate and can easily be damaged.

As with the appendix and wisdom teeth, the human race has outpaced the jaw’s evolutionary change. Our jaw is still adapting to modern life, and isn’t necessarily designed for gum chewing, frequent meals, talking, and the stress that leads to grinding and inflammation. TMD is such a recent malady, it wasn’t recognized by the healthcare community until the 1950s.

The physical causes for TMD may be any of the following:

  • Clenching or grinding teeth caused by stress.
  • A blow that results in bone fracture, bruising or joint dislocation.
  • Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Opening the mouth wide, as when yawning or from lengthy dental procedures, which can overextend the jaw.

According to the TMJ Association, symptoms of TMD are:

  • Pain in the jaw muscles
  • Pain or tenderness in the sides of the face
  • Pain in the neck and shoulders
  • Chronic headaches
  • Jaw muscle stiffness
  • Limited movement or locking of the jaw
  • Ear pain, pressure, fullness, ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Painful clicking, grating, or a popping sound in the jaw joint when opening or closing the mouth
  • A bite that feels “off”
  • Dizziness
  • Vision problems

With a majority of people, TMD is temporary and the symptoms will disappear, although some of the following therapies from TMJA may offer some relief:

  • Moist Heat – A hot water bottle wrapped in a warm, moist towel can improve function and reduce pain.
  • Ice – Ice packs can decrease inflammation and also numb pain and promote healing. Keep the pack wrapped in a clean cloth and use it for only 10-15 minutes.
  • Soft Diet – Soft or blended foods allow the jaw to rest temporarily. Avoid hard, crunchy, and chewy foods.
  • Over the-Counter Analgesics – For many people with TMD, over-the-counter pain medications and anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen, may provide temporary relief from jaw discomfort.
  • Jaw Exercises – Slow, gentle jaw exercises may help increase jaw mobility and healing.
  • Relaxation Techniques – Deep, slow breathing enhances relaxation and modulates pain sensations. Some have found yoga, massage, and meditation helpful in reducing stress and aiding relaxation.
  • Side Sleeping – Sleep on your side using pillow support between shoulder and neck.

Muscle relaxants may also be effective; however, the downside of most muscle relaxants is drowsiness and potentially dangerous interactions with other prescription medications.

One of the best ways to ease the pain of temporary TMD is by seeing Dr. Robert Brei, DDS. Dr. Brei can diagnose and offer relief for your TMD. Since TMD can be caused by tooth and jaw misalignment or from grinding or clenching (bruxism), Dr. Brei may recommend a dental appliance or refer you to an orthodontist. There’s no need to suffer the pain of TMD, even temporarily. Dr. Brei can help.

There are many ways to contact the office of Dr. Brei. You can email them at, call them at 520-325-9000, or click here to book an appointment directly. If you find yourself with symptoms of TMD, let Dr. Brei help.