TMJ (temporomandibular joint) is the general name that is given to disorders concerning jaw joints and jaw movement. More specifically, TMJ disorders are related to the hinge joint that connects the lower jaw to the skull.
These types of disorders are sometimes referred to as TM or TMD, but the most widely used terminology is TMJ.
To date, there has not been a specific cause attributed to the development of TMJ. Dental professionals believe, however, that problems begin either with the muscles in the jaw or with the joints themselves.
In some cases, injury to the jaw, whiplash, or a heavy blow to the head or neck can result in the development of TMJ, but there are also other causes that are believed to play a role.
- Stress – particularly when people clench their teeth or tighten their facial muscles as a result of the stress they are experiencing.
- Clenching or grinding the teeth – this puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the temporomandibular joint.
- Rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis in the temporomandibular joint.
- Dislocation of the disc between the ball and socket.
TMJ occurs most often in people who are between the ages of 20 and 40, with women being far more likely than men to develop this condition.The pain that is associated with TMJ can be severe, but the duration of this condition tends to vary greatly. With some people, it is only temporary, while for others it can last for a number of years.
The most common symptoms include:
- Neck aches
- Feeling tired in the face
- Jaws that lock either in an open or closed position
- A limited ability to open the mouth wide
- Tenderness or pain in the face, neck, shoulders, or ear when chewing or speaking
- Swelling on the side of the face
- Popping, grating, or clicking sounds when opening or closing the mouth (especially in the jaw joint)
- An uncomfortable bite or difficulty chewing
- Hearing problems
There are a variety of different treatments that can be used for TMJ disorders. In some cases, people may experience pain that is manageable enough that they do not require treatment at all. For people who do need treatment, doctors may prescribe the following.
- Bite guard – these are worn at night to keep people from grinding their teeth together during sleep.
- Psychotherapy – this is particularly useful for people who are experiencing great amounts of stress.
- Medications – depending on the symptoms that are present, doctors may prescribe an anti-inflammatory, corticosteroid injections, muscle relaxers, or antidepressants. All of these have provided patients with some amount of pain relief, but they do not all work for everyone.
- Dental treatments – certain corrective procedures may be performed in an effort to improve a person’s bite, which can help to relieve particular types of pain associated with TMJ.
- Surgery – this is normally a last resort procedure, and it may involve joint replacement or repair of the disc between the mandible and temporal bone.
By Marc Courtiol