Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) pertain to problems associated with jaw movement. Symptoms may include pain or discomfort in the jaw joints; tenderness in the face, neck or shoulders; headaches; locking of the jaw; and clicking or popping sounds when opening the mouth. In some cases, an ear condition known as tinnitus also accompanies TMD.
While these symptoms usually go away on their own, it is not uncommon that they recur over time. They may reemerge as jaw discomfort or difficulty when chewing. But for some, the recurring symptoms can be very disabling.
But what causes TMD? According to experts, this condition can result from one or a series of causes. One of the leading causes of TMD is muscle tension. Tightness and spasm of the muscles in the face, neck and shoulders can trigger an achy feeling in the jaws. It may also be accompanied by stiffness of the jaw joints.
Muscle tension is triggered by stress as well as habits like grinding or clenching of the teeth, nail biting or excessive gum chewing. Jaw pain also results from an injury, as when the area is struck. Structural issues within the jaw joint can also activate these symptoms.
Most problems in the internal makeup of the jaw joints are caused by displacement of the disc located between them. Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and similar degenerative diseases can also trigger inflammation, leading to the deterioration of the tissues between or around the joints. Congenital defects, tumor, bone damage and scar tissue also contribute to pain or discomfort in the jaw joints.
With regard to these causes, they may have a close, mutually triggering relationship with each other. For instance, osteoarthritis can set off changes in the structure of the jaw joints and then cause muscle tension or spasm. In the same way, muscle spasm can get in the way of jaw function, which can lead to osteoarthritis. As for degenerative conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, they can also trigger migraines and headaches.