What is TMJ Disorder?
TMJ disorder is an acronym used to abbreviate temporomandibular joint disorder. This disorder impacts the jaw joint as well as the muscles responsible for controlling the jaw. TMJ oftentimes results in pain toward the front portion of the ears. In some cases, TMJ disorder leads to pain in the form of a headache. TMJ pain can result from trauma, degenerative/inflammatory arthritis, shoddy dental work, and other stimuli. In some cases, structural defects move the mandible back in the direction of the ears when swallowing or chewing. Those who clench or grind their teeth as a result of stress often suffer from TMJ pain. It is even possible for the muscles positioned by the TMJ that facilitate the chewing process to spasm, leading to mouth, neck and head pain.
The TMJ is Fallible
The TMJ joint is similar to the rest of the joints in the body in that it is fallible. It is possible for the TMJ joint to become swollen, fractured and/or sore. If the TMJ is compromised, it will limit lower jaw movement and likely cause pain to radiate to the neck/head area. Though it is rare for the articular disc to become fractured, it is possible for it to become displaced, leading to considerable swelling and pain. TMJ arthritis is quite rare compared to arthritis in other joints of the body such as the hips and knees yet it is possible for this joint to become arthritic. Thankfully, TMJ pain typically proves temporary, especially when treated by an experienced dentist in a timely manner.
The appropriate treatment1 for TMJ hinges on the cause of the underlying problem as well as the severity of the condition. Some patients benefit from a mouthguard while others obtain considerable benefit from medication that wards off nighttime teeth-grinding. Surgery is also an option for TMJ-sufferers. However, plenty of patients live with TMJ pain for an extended period of time as this disorder is difficult to diagnose. Furthermore, the inerrant complexity of the joint makes treatment challenging.
All in all, about 12% of those living in the United States suffer from a TMJ disorder at any given moment in time. It is particularly interesting to note women suffer from TMJ disorder at a higher frequency than men. For every man who experiences significant pain and jaw movement restriction, there are nine women who experience the same sensation.
Why the Temporomandibular Joint is so Important
The temporomandibular joint is positioned along the base of the skull. Typically referred to as “TMJ” for short, this joint is essential to the talking and chewing processes. If the TMJ joint were not in place, it would not be possible for the individual to move his or her mouth as necessary for verbal interactions with others. Nor would it be possible to chew food.
The TMJ joint connects the lower jaw, also known as the mandible, to the temporal bone that is positioned on the skull's side. TMJ permits upward and downward movement along with side-to-side movement, making it one of the most complex joints in the entire human body. As noted above, this complexity makes severe TMJ quite challenging to treat in an effective manner.
The Causes of TMJ Disorders
If you experience pain along your jaw or can no longer move your jaw as you once did, you likely have a TMJ disorder. The majority of TMJ disorder work themselves out in a relatively short period of time. In general, TMJ resolves itself in a few months. However, there is the potential for a recurrence or ongoing TMJ as time progresses.
An array of causes are responsible for TMJ disorders. As an example, arthritis, physical injury, an autoimmune disease, clenching/grinding the teeth during sleep, infection and even a dental surgery can result in a TMJ disorder. Additional causes include hormonal changes, genetics, and environmental triggers. Readers will be interested to learn violinists have a particularly high prevalence of TMJ disorders as their work requires the holding of an instrument directly below the jaw. The resulting strain dramatically increases the chances of a TMJ disorder.
Pain endured when moving the jaw is one of the clearest signs of TMJ disorder. However, pain resulting from jaw movement is not the sole TMJ disorder symptom. Additional symptoms include migraine headaches, neck aches, earaches, backaches, pain in the ear(s) and pain along the cheeks. TMJ disorders also manifest in the form of problems when the patient attempts to open his or her mouth widely. It is also possible for TMJ to manifest through a locking or sticking of the jaw when the mouth is in a closed or open position.
Popping, clicking and/or grating noises along the jaw joint when opening/closing the mouth or chewing are also signs of a TMJ disorder. Such noises are not always painful. Even a fatigued feeling along the face is a sign of a TMJ disorder. The rapid onset of discomfort when biting down on food and the failure of the upper/lower teeth to fit together in the proper manner are also signs of TMJ disorders. However, if your specific pain is not near the jaw, the dentist will likely look for additional symptoms before diagnosing the problem as a TMJ disorder.
How to Keep Your TMJ in Optimal Health
You can do your part to keep your TMJ healthy by visiting with your dentist on a regular basis. Frequent visits with the dentist will help minimize the chances of complications arising. Meet with their dentist every six months so this professional can analyze your mouth for potential TMJ disorders before they manifest.
Above all, brush and floss your teeth at least two times each day. If you have TMJ and it caused wear along the enamel, it will help to use a high-quality fluoridated toothpaste that provides comprehensive protection. The moral of this story is the TMJ is similar to other joints within your body in that preventive health habits can greatly reduce the chances of wear, potential malfunction, and subsequent pain.
AnaBella Family & Cosmetic Dentistry
If you suspect you have TMJ disorder, another oral health problem or simply need an examination or cleaning, we are at your service. Reach out to us today by dialing (425) 230-4308 to schedule an appointment2.