How Long Does TMD Last? All You Need to Know
How Long Does TMD Last? All You Need to Know
Searching for Answers in TMJ Pain
Searching the Internet, discussions on social media, and even asking AI, the question “How long does my TMJ last?” is not specific enough for you to get a correct answer. For better search results, it is important to first understand the information in this blog that explains the difference between TMJ and TMD.
TMD stands for Temporomandibular Disorder which creates pain in head, neck, and jaw joint. TMJ is the joint itself not the disorder. TMJ pain is just one of the many TMD pain symptoms. In asking how long TMJ lasts, allows for discussing only the joint and its parts and leave out the other painful TMD symptoms. If you have TMJ joint pain, it is important to understand the joint.
Image One, from the E-Book “The Life-Robbing Pain of TMD; Why Me?” on Amazon, shows the difference between a healthy joint and one that is causing problems. The circled areas demonstrate how the condyle, which is the round knob, sits in the mandibular fossa of the skull. In the healthy joint on the left, there is even space all around the condyle. In normal image, the condyle is in a neutral position. A healthy joint also has a fibrous disc, in blue, that sits on top of the condyle. Its purpose is to help the condyle smoothly glide down the mandibular fossa. Both left and right TMJs are meant to work in harmony in opening the jaw. The jaw should open wide enough to put three knuckles in between the front teeth. On opening, the jaw should open smoothly with no deviation from side to side. Think of rolling a wheelchair in a straight path down a smooth sidewalk. When there is nothing on the sidewalk, everything goes smoothly.
The image on the right shows the disc off and in front of the condyle. This is a displaced disc which can cause a multitude of problems ranging from a slight click to emergency room pain. If the condyle pops back on to the condyle on opening, a process called reduction, it causes a “click or pop” noise. When it does not pop back on, it is noiseless and called non-reduced. Both reduction and non-reduction influence the way the jaw opens. Anytime the disc is non-reduced, it causes the jaw to deviate to that side. Think of the same wheelchair hitting a stick on that smooth sidewalk; it deviates to the side the stick is on. The jaw does the same. If there was a log across the sidewalk, the wheelchair would completely stop. Likewise, if both discs stay in front of the condyles and don’t reduce, the jaw can’t open wide.
The “How long does my TMJ last” can’t be truthfully answered because it all depends. But doesn’t it make sense to have your discs sitting in the correct position and have a normal TMJ? Every case is different which requires the knowledge of a neuromuscular trained dentists who can fabricate a neuromuscular orthotic that allows the disc to stay on top of the condyle. Success of this procedure depends on the amount of damage that has already been done. Understanding the anatomy of a healthy TMJ versus one with problems leads to the next question, “What happens if my TMJ does not go away?”
TMJ is an acronym for the jaw joint itself. Your compressed joint may get disfigured, but it not going away. Discs come off the condyle when the joint is compressed. A compressed condyle means it is pushed too far back in the socket. Horrible, severe, emergency room, pain can occur within the TMJ as Image Two illustrates. The Retrodiscal Pad, illustrated by the red coloration in the image, is highly innervated with blood vessels and nerves. When the joint is too far back as illustrated, the condyle putts pressure on the nerve. Obviously, pressure on a nerve is going to cause pain. Since the pain is coming from a nerve that is less than two millimeters from the ear canal, people seek help for ear pain in the
emergency room or with an ENT. Because the chief complaint is ear pain, the doctor, who is unaware of TMJ pain, examines the ear canal only to find it clean and clear of any infection. The patient is told there is nothing wrong. It is a horrible situation that only be changed with education of both the public and medical profession. TMD unawares is a shameful, world-wide reality.
A better question is when are my TMJ symptoms going away? It is a question that can’t be answered with any predictability. It’s possible that the body can adapt to the disfunction in a non-painful manner, but, a compressed TMJ is going to remain compressed without proper treatment. The reason the joint is compressed is usually due to a deficient upper jaw as seen in Image Three. When the upper jaw is too small, the lower jaw pulls back during closure so the back teeth can come together. If it didn’t pull back, only the front teeth would hit. Many people with deficient maxilla’s usually have crooked or worn front teeth.
The solution to the compressed joint is to decompress it and keep it decompressed using a neuromuscular orthotic that allows the jaw and therefor the joint to come forward into the same neutral position as a healthy joint.
The blue covering the lower teeth in Image Four represents a neuromuscular, plastic, removable orthotic. It snaps over the lower teeth and acts as an overlay that allows all teeth to hit at the same time in a more forward position. This forward closure brings the condyle forward into the natural, neutral position.
The International College of Craniomandibular Orthopedics (ICCMO.org) is a non-profit organization comprised of members who know how to treat joint disorders described in the blog. It has a search engine to help you find the right dentist for you.