Chew on This

One in four people are living with the pain and other uncomfortable symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorder.

Chew on that a minute – if you can.

Temporomandibular disorder – also known as TMD – can make it difficult to chew and talk. This is because the condition affects the jaw joints and can cause debilitating pain and other uncomfortable side effects.

And, for most people, chewing, talking and other activities that involve the jaw are critical.

‘So if the jaw doesn’t function as nature intended or it hurts to use the jaw, quality of life is diminished,’ said Dr. Sean Endsley, a Waco, Texas, dentist.

Researchers at the University of California-Irvine are trying to change that by engineering a new material designed to help treat TMD patients.

In most cases, TMD begins with pain, stiffness or tension in jaw joints themselves or in the muscles that surround the joint.

‘The condition begins with discomfort or pain and popping or creaking when the jaw opens and closes,’ Endsley said.

A recent study published in the Cell Press journal Trends in Molecular Medicine takes a look at the cause of TMD and new approaches to treatment.

What Causes TMD?

In most cases, TMD and other jaw disorders develop because of injury, trauma or wear and tear. These conditions can make the cartilage disc of the jaw that rests between the jawbone and the temporal bone of the skull become thin or perforated.

In most cases, those affected by TMD are between the ages of 20 and 50. Premenopausal women have an eight times greater risk of developing TMD than men.

Most common treatments for the jaw condition include pain relievers, anti-inflammatories, steroid injections, splints and oral appliances, and physical therapy.

Some severe cases of TMD require surgery, but this is typically a last resort.

But why?

‘For one, it is invasive. For two, it requires a lot of recovery time. Finally, there are other noninvasive ways to treat it first,’ Endsley said.

Another reason why surgical treatment of TMD is not ideal is that artificial discs that have been used historically to replace damaged temporomandibular joint discs were dangerous.

For many years, replacement disks were made of Teflon, a material approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. But, despite being approved by the FDA, the material was not ideal for TMD treatment.

Due to stress and mechanical forces on the jaw caused by chewing, biting and talking, the Teflon broke up into pieces and traveled to the brains of individuals with replacement disks.

UCI researchers are working on developing biologically friendly temporomandibular joint replacement discs that can be safely used in humans to treat painful TMD. Using cells taken from the ribcage of a Yucatan miniature pig, the researchers grew tissue and implanted it into the temporomandibular joints of a separate animal.

The reason for the placement was to test the functionality and durability of the replacement discs. The discs performed well, and the UCI researchers hope their product can be tested in additional animal and human trials.

Source: Eureka. UCI engineers aim to pioneer tissue-engineering approach to TMJ disorders. 20 March 2019.