TMD Treatment: Where Dentistry And Physical Therapy Meet

Life can be filled with curious twists and turns. Just imagine visiting your dentist to have them investigate your recurring jaw pain. The last thing you might expect is to be referred to a physical therapist. But this can be a valuable tool in treating temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD). How can physical therapy help?

How TMD Affects the Jaw

TMD affects the muscles, ligaments, and joints that connect the mandibular (lower) jaw to the skull. These tissues become strained, and jaw pain is a common outcome, which is why many patients seek dental treatment. Dental intervention is often necessary, as deterioration of a tooth can change the set of the jaw, leading to TMD. Misalignment of the jaw (requiring orthodontic treatment) can also contribute to TMD. Advanced cases can need pharmaceutical assistance (muscle relaxants) or even corrective surgery. However, when these measures are too extreme for your particular case, a dentist may recommend physical therapy, in addition to correcting the dental issue thought to be causing your TMD.

What Physical Therapy for TMD Involves

Physical therapy for TMD is focused on addressing the strain on your temporomandibular joints. You will be taught exercises for changing the posture (set) of your jaw, improving the alignment of your bite. These exercises are strategic muscle-strengthening activities that increase the range of motion (and flexibility) of your temporomandibular joints. Localized massage may also be performed. Should someone with suspected TMD bypass their dentist and head straight to a physical therapist?

Consult Your Dentist or Doctor

Physical therapy may not be an appropriate part of the treatment protocol for some patients, which is why a referral from your dentist or physician is wise. Despite this, you may wish to raise the subject with your dentist or doctor if you feel that physical therapy may be beneficial to you. A generalist approach isn't especially helpful, and a physical therapist treating TMD will need to know which precise parts of your jaw structure need to be addressed in order to determine a relevant treatment plan. As is the case with any physical therapy, you should not undertake any treatment exercises yourself unless advised to do so by your therapist.

Physical therapy will not cure TMD by itself, but it can relieve symptoms. And these symptoms should subside once the cause of your TMD has been identified and treated, with your therapy then taking on a restorative element—helping to return your temporomandibular joints to their full range of (pain-free) motion.