TMJ is an acronym for the Temporomandibular Joint. The temporomandibular joints are located on both sides of the face, just in front of the ears. It connects the lower jawbone to the skull and is used in chewing and speaking. The joint is a sliding hinge that allows the jaw to move up and down and side to side.
People sometimes refer to TMJ disorders as TMD is any dysfunction of the TMJ. However, most people use TMJ and TMD interchangeably. TMJ is a condition affecting the jaw joints and surrounding muscles and ligaments. These joints become inflamed. TMJ can be caused by trauma, an improper bite, arthritis, or wear and tear. TMJ can be acute, strong, and immediate, or chronic, ongoing. The pain may be mild or severe.
There are many things that can lead to TMJ pain. A few include:
- Heavy blow to the head and neck
- Car accident
- Grinding Teeth
- Clenching the Teeth
- Movement of the Disc (soft cushion between the ball and socket of the joint)
- Erosion of the disc
- Damaged cartilage
- Ligament damage
- Genetic Predisposition
- Connective Tissue disorders
The best treatment for any disorder is prevention. However, some causes of TMJ are out of the patient’s control. For instance, these could be genetic, the shape of the mouth, or the form of the bite. There are, however, things a patient can do to help prevent joint dysfunction. In the first place, practicing good posture is important for the overall wellness of the entire body, including this joint. If recommended by a professional, wear a night guard to sleep. In addition, always wear a mouthguard when playing sports. Further, practice relaxation and stress-reduction techniques. With this in mind, some dental and orthodontic treatments are recommended to correct a problem before it becomes a dysfunction.
Symptoms of TMJ
TMJ is more frequent in women than men. Most patients are between the ages of 20 and 40. TMJ may have many symptoms, some which may not immediately lead a patient to think of the jaw. Of course, jaw pain is the most obvious symptom of TMJ, but there are several other symptoms as well.
- Ear Pain
- Neck Pain
- Shoulder Pain
- Difficulty Opening Mouth Wide
- Locking Jaw (The jaw is stuck in the open or closed position.)
- Clicking or Popping Sounds
- Grinding Sounds
- Difficulty Chewing
- Overall Tiredness in Face
- Ringing in the Ears (Tinnitis)
- Changes in Bite
- Swelling in the Face
- Tooth Pain
A TMJ diagnosis is typically made as part of a dental exam. In some cases, a patient may complain of symptoms to a doctor, but if the doctor suspects TMJ, the patient will be referred to their dentist. On the whole, the symptoms are similar to the symptoms of other conditions such as tooth decay, sinus problems, arthritis, or gum disease. In order to distinguish the cause of the symptoms, the dentist will complete an exam.
The dentist will observe the patient’s range of motion in opening and closing the mouth. As a matter of fact, he or she will feel around these joints as a patient opens and closes. They will likely press on the face and on the jaw to locate specific areas of discomfort.
The dentist will likely take radiographs and x-rays to view the jaw and determine the extent of any damage to the bone. They may need to do other tests, like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computer tomography (CT). The MRI shows if the TMJ disc is in the proper position as your jaw moves. A CT scan shows the bony detail of the joint. Especially in severe cases, a dentist may further refer a patient to a specialist, a maxillofacial surgeon who specializes in skeletal issues such as TMJ.
Depending on the severity of TMJ, there are a wide variety of treatments. These treatments range from simple, non-invasive treatments all the way to surgery. First, there are self-care at-home strategies to help alleviate the pain and discomfort. Second, there are medicines that can help with the pain. Third, there are many other noninvasive options as well. We provide more details about treatment options in another blog post.
If TMJ is left untreated, it often leads to significant health problems On the negative side, chronic pain and inflammation impact all areas of daily life. In time, TMJ frequently causes bite issues and tooth erosion. From time to time, patients develop long-term conditions such as sleep apnea or insomnia. In fact, a patient may even experience depression and anxiety.
Don’t ignore your pain! Success treatment occurs for most cases of TMJ without surgery. Come see us at Danville Family Dentistry and we can assess your jaw pain and offer recommendations to alleviate it. Contact us today!
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Disclaimer: The information included in this article is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.