Temporomandibular disorder; the mystery diagnosis

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Temporomandibular disorder; the mystery diagnosis
By Jannick Vielleuse MPT

When people think of physical therapy, they tend to think of rehabilitation from injuries from the neck down like rotator cuff injuries, knee injuries or back pain, but did you know that physical therapist also have the expertise to treat jaw pain and other kinds of facial pain? Jaw pain will often be diagnosed as Temporomandibular joint dysfunction or TMD but it can take some time before reaching this diagnosis. People with this disorder often bounce from doctors to dentists to oral surgeons often feeling like the only possible way out is surgery with uncertain outcomes. While surgery may help for certain cases, it is always indicated, just like with any other body part, to try conservative treatments like physical therapy first.

What can cause TMD

Psychological factors like stress and anxiety
Poor posture
Traumatic dental procedure
Dental procedures that change your teeth occlusion like implants or root canals
Car accident
Blow to the jaw etc…


I have worked with many patients with TMD or other types of facial pains and have seen very positive outcomes working alongside dentists and oral surgeon to provide patient specific multi-disciplinary care.

Here is a useful chart that can help you determine if you should discuss treatment of TMD with your health specialist.

1.In the last 30 days, how long did any pain last in your jaw or temple area on either side?
a) No pain
b) Pain comes and goes
c) Pain is always present

2. In the last 30 days, have you had pain or stiffness in your jaw on awakening?
a) No
b) Yes

3. In the last 30 days, did the following activities change any pain (that is, make it better or worse) in your jaw or temple area on either side?

a) Chewing hard or tough food
a) No
b) Yes

4. Opening your mouth or moving your jaw forward or to the side
a) No
b) Yes

5. Jaw habits as such as holding teeth together, clenching, grinding, or chewing gum
a) No
b) Yes


6. Other jaw activities such as talking, kissing or yawning
a) No
b) Yes

b= 1
c= 2


If you scored 3 or more it would be a good idea for you to discuss treatment options for TMD with your dentist or doctor and consider consulting a physical therapist prior to any more invasive options.

For an appointment with a physical therapist with experience working with this particular diagnosis as well as other kinds of facial pain please call Atlantic Physical Therapy in Philadelphia, PA at 215-271-4100.