What is the Temporomandibular Joint?
TMJ (the temporomandibular joint) is the part of the jaw that slides and rotates just in front of your ear. It consists of the side and base of the skull (temporal bone) and the lower jaw (mandible). Chewing muscles connect the lower jaw to the rest of the head, allowing you to move your jaw forward, sideways, and open and close.
When the jaw joint is working correctly, the lower jaw (both the right and left portions) is smooth and synchronized during movement. Temporomandibular Joint Disorder occurs when the jaw twists during opening, closing, or side-motion movements. These movements affect the jaw joint and the muscles that control chewing.
What is TMJ?
TMJ describes a variety of conditions that affect jaw muscles, temporomandibular joints, and nerves associated with chronic facial pain. Symptoms may occur on one or both sides of the face, head or jaw, or develop after an injury. TMJ affects more than twice as many women as men and is the most common non-dental source of chronic orofacial pain.
What causes TMJ?
Normal function for this muscle group includes chewing, swallowing, speech, and communication. Most experts suggest that specific tasks, either mental or physical, cause or aggravate TMJ, such as strenuous physical tasks or stressful situations. Most discomfort is caused by overuse of the muscles, specifically clenching or grinding teeth (bruxism).
These excessive habits tire the jaw muscles and lead to pain, such as headaches or neck soreness. Additionally, the abnormal function can lead to worn or sensitive teeth, traumatized soft tissues, muscle soreness, jaw discomfort when eating, and temporal (side) headaches.
What TMJ symptoms can I experience?
- An earache without an infection
- Jaw pain or soreness that is more prevalent in the morning or late afternoon
- Jaw pain when you chew, bite, or yawn
- Clicking when opening and closing your jaw
- Difficulty opening and closing your mouth
- A locked or stiff jaw when you talk, yawn, or eat
- Sensitive teeth when no dental problems are present
What can I do to treat TMJ?
The majority of cases can be treated by unloading (resting) the joint, taking a non-aspirin pain reliever, and practicing stress management and relaxation techniques. It’s important to break bad habits to ease the symptoms. Most treatment for TMJ is simple and can available at home. For example, control clenching or grinding during the day by sticking your tongue between your teeth. If you still experience pain, you may be grinding or clenching your teeth at night. So consider scheduling a consultation with us for a nighttime mouthguard.
Most people will experience relief with minor treatment. More severe cases find comfort through physical therapy, ice/hot packs, posture training, or orthopedic appliance therapy (splint). Eating soft foods and avoiding chewing gum also will help relax the muscles.
Is TMJ permanent?
The condition is often cyclical and may reoccur during times of stress. As the patient, you should be active in your treatment after seeing us for a diagnosis regime by being aware of the causes of your jaw problems. Then, make routine dental appointments so we can check for TMJ regularly.