Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders, commonly referred to as TMJ, are a group of conditions that cause pain and dysfunction in the jaw joint and the muscles that control jaw movement. It is not known for certain how many people have TMJ disorders, but some estimates suggest that over 10 million Americans are affected. The condition appears to be more common in women than men. For most people, pain in the area of the jaw joint or muscles does not signal a serious problem. Generally, discomfort from these conditions is occasional and temporary, often occurring in cycles. We take a look at what temporomandibular joint disorder, how to detect it, and what the options are for treatment.
What is temporomandibular joint disorder?
Temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMJ, means that the hinge connecting the upper and lower jaw isn’t working properly. This hinge is one of the most complex joints in the body, responsible for moving the lower jaw forward, backward and side-to-side. Any problem that prevents this complex system of muscles, ligaments, discs and bones from functioning as it should is called TMJ. Often, TMJ feels like your jaw is popping or clicking or even getting stuck for a moment.
What causes TMJ?
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) combines a hinge action with sliding motions. The parts of the bones that interact in the joint are covered with cartilage and are separated by a small shock-absorbing disk, which normally keeps the movement smooth. The exact cause of a person’s TMJ disorder is often difficult to determine. Your pain may be due to a combination of factors, such as genetics, arthritis or jaw injury. Some people who have jaw pain also tend to clench or grind their teeth, although many people habitually clench or grind their teeth and never develop TMJ disorders. Painful TMJ disorders can occur if:
- The disk erodes or moves out of its proper alignment
- The joint’s cartilage is damaged by arthritis
- The joint is damaged by a blow or other impact
What are the symptoms of TMJ?
TMJ disorders have many signs and symptoms. It’s often hard to know for sure if you have TMJ, because one or all of these symptoms can also be present for other problems. Your dentist can make a proper diagnosis by taking a complete medical and dental history, conducting a clinical examination and taking appropriate X-rays. Some of the most common TMJ symptoms include:
- Headaches (often mimicking migraines), earaches, and pain and pressure behind the eyes
- A clicking or popping sound when you open or close your mouth
- Pain brought on by yawning, opening the mouth widely or chewing
- Jaws that “get stuck,” lock or go out
- Tenderness of the jaw muscles
- A sudden change in the way the upper and lower teeth fit together
How is TMJ treated?
While there is no single cure for TMJ, there are different treatments you can follow that may reduce your symptoms dramatically. Your dentist may recommend one or more of the following:
- Trying to eliminate muscle spasm and pain by applying moist heat or taking medication such as muscle-relaxants, aspirin or other over-the-counter pain-relievers, or anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Reducing the harmful effects of clenching and grinding by wearing an appliance, sometimes called a bite plate or splint. Custom-made to fit your mouth, the appliance slips over the upper teeth and keeps them from grinding against the lower teeth.
- Learning relaxation techniques to help control muscle tension in the jaw. Your dentist may suggest you seek training or counseling to help eliminate stress.
- When the jaw joints are affected and other treatments have been unsuccessful, jaw joint surgery may be recommended.
If you have any questions about TMJ, call Winning Smiles to schedule an appointment with your dentist 716-332-2444.