Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ or TMD) are common, but they’re not always serious. For some people, the condition will come up, and if a person uses a few simple home remedies, the condition will pass on its own in a week or two or three. It’s not a major concern. However, for other people, TMJ can lead to serious chronic pain that can last and worsen over the years.

For the people in the former group, it’s a waste of time to get TMJ treatment, but if people in the latter group don’t get treatment soon, they can end up needing surgery to replace damaged jaw joints. But how can we tell which is which?

A new study gives us clues that the answer likely lies in certain physical symptoms.

woman sitting on her couch rubs her neck

A Study by the NIDCR

The new study was conducted by the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) and published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA). For this study, researchers looked at an initial population of 260 people who developed TMJ. Then then followed up with almost 150 after six months, finding that 72 of them still had TMJ, while 75 had it resolve under normal care.

Researchers then looked at many characteristics of the patients to determine which characteristics were linked to chronic TMJ.

Clinical Exam Characteristics Linked to Persistent TMJ

In doing the comparison, researchers found that people who had greater TMJ pain at the initial exam were about 50% more likely to have persistent TMJ. In addition, the presence of more physical symptoms was also predictive of persistent TMJ, almost doubling the risk.

Further analysis showed that traits identified during the clinical exam could predict the persistence of TMJ better than did psychosocial traits. In particular, researchers pointed to these TMJ symptoms :

  • Jaw pain related to biting, chewing, yawning or other jaw activities
  • Muscle and joint pain during exam
  •  Jaw sounds like clicking or crunching when asked to move their jaw

As being linked to persistent TMJ.

It’s interesting that psychosocial characteristics like stress weren’t particularly good indicators of persistent TMJ. Earlier studies indicated that these characteristics were strong predictors of initial onset, but, apparently, they are more linked to transient TMJ cases.

Schedule a TMJ Exam

Are you dealing with TMJ? You can initially try home remedies to alleviate pain, but you should see a doctor if your symptoms persist for more than a week or worsen under home care.

Fortunately, at your exam, we will be able to assess your symptoms and determine whether you are likely to develop chronic TMJ.

To learn whether your TMJ is likely to pass or become chronic, please call (248) 825-8277 today for an appointment with Detroit area TMJ dentist Dr. Jeffrey S. Haddad at the Michigan Center for TMJ and Sleep Wellness in Troy.