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TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder)


TMJ disorder is a group of conditions that affect the temporomandibular joint, jaw muscles and nerves on each side of the head. This causes face, head, jaw and neck pain that can range from being severely painful and constant for years to hardly experiencing symptoms at all.

TMJ, TMJD and TMD are common names this disorder is known by. The TMJ Association, Ltd. categorizes TMJ disorder into three categories. However, unlike other certain medical/dental conditions and diseases, patients may have one or more type of TMD condition at the same time. The three categories include:

Arthritis- The pain that occurs is due to degenerative and inflammatory joint conditions

Internal Derangement- When the disc in the jaw joint is displaced, the jaw is dislocated or an injury to the condyle (part of lower jaw that acts like hinge) occurs.

Myofacial Pain- Most common and involves discomfort and pain within the muscles that control your jaw movements

TMJ Disorder Symptoms

There will be a number of different symptoms you may start to experience to indicate TMJ disorder is present, including:

  • Pain in your jaw
  • Tenderness in your jaw
  • Headaches
  • Migraines
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Discomfort when chewing
  • Aching pain in the face
  • Aching pain in and around your ear
  • Popping or locking of the jaw when opening or closing
  • Difficulty opening and closing your mouth
  • Uncomfortable bite
  • Uneven bite
  • Neck and shoulder pain
  • Tinnitus

The important symptom to look for when trying to determine whether or not you have TMJ disorder is pain. If there is no pain associated with the popping, clicking sounds or grinding/grating of your teeth when you chew then chances are you do not have TMJ disorder. If there is pain coupled with the symptoms you are having you should probably seek help from your dentist, TMJ specialist or a health care professional.

How Does the Temporomandibular Joint Work?

The temporomandibular joint or TMJ uses a hinge concept that combines with a sliding motion. This joint is the one that allows you to eat, talk and chew. Cartilage covers the bones that interact in the TMJ, and the movement is kept smooth by one small shock-absorbing disk that separates the cartilage from the bones

TMJ Disorder Causes

Now that we understand how the temporomandibular joint works, we can now understand better what causes TMJ disorders. Here’s a look at some of the causes:

  • The disk moves from its proper alignment
  • The joint’s cartilage is damaged by arthritis
  • The joint is damaged by injury or trauma
  • Grinding your teeth causes stress on overworked joints

It’s also important to know that in some cases, the cause of TMJ disorder is unclear. There are no signs of the problems listed above, yet it is clear the patient is suffering from the condition.

TMJ Disorder Treatment

There are numerous different types of treatment methods available for those who have TMJ disorder, including:

  • Medication
  • Therapies
  • Surgical procedures
  • Tooth restorations
  • Splints
  • Mouth guards

You should make sure that if you are experiencing TMJ disorder symptoms, you seek professional help from a dentist that is highly skilled and trained in temporomandibular joint problems. The jaw-to-bite relationship is critical and your dentist should have plenty of expertise in this area. Otherwise, you might want to consider finding a different dentist.

Another key factor to keep in mind is that TMJ disorders can be treated at home, non-invasively. Surgeries, splints and mouth guards are usually used on patients who have more serious TMJ disorder symptoms. Tooth restorations such as dental bridges or crowns are also a simplified way to treat TMJ disorders. Medications such as painkillers, muscle relaxants, antidepressants and corticosteroid drugs can do things such as reduce pain and inflammation (swelling).

Remember, it will depend on factors such as your symptoms and what’s causing the TMJ disorder before your dentist can create a proper treatment plan for you.

Page updated February 2011



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