Sun, Dec 30, 2012
What is the temporomandibular joint?
The temporomandibular joint connects the lower jaw, called the mandible, to the bone at the side of the head, the temporal bone. If you place your fingers just in front of your ears and open your mouth, you can feel the joints. Because these joints are flexible, the jaw can move smoothly up and down and side to side, enabling us to talk, chew and yawn. Muscles attached to and surrounding the jaw joint control its position and movement.
TMJ syndrome refers to a disorder of the temporomandibular joint that connects the jaw to the rest of the skull. When this joint becomes irritated, inflamed, or otherwise compromised, the pain can become unbearable in a short period of time. This is due to the central location of the temporomandibular joint, which allows the discomfort to spread beyond the jaw itself and into the mouth and teeth, ears, eyes, neck, shoulders and head. Additionally, since TMJ disorder is easily aggravated by so many normal daily tasks like eating, talking and yawning, it can be difficult to avoid for even a moment. For this reason, anyone who suffers from TMJ syndrome should seek treatment from an experienced TMJ specialist immediately. Failure to do so could have serious lifelong consequences.
Disorders of the jaw joint and chewing muscles and how people respond to them, vary widely. Researchers generally agree that the conditions fall into three main categories:
- Myofascial pain, the most common temporomandibular disorder, involves discomfort or pain in the muscles that control jaw function.
- Internal derangement of the joint involves a displaced disc, dislocated jaw, or injury to the condyle.
- Arthritis refers to a group of degenerative/inflammatory joint disorders that can affect the temporomandibular joint.
A person may have one or more of these conditions at the same time. Some people have other health problems that co-exist with TMJ disorders, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, sleep disturbances or fibromyalgia, a painful condition that affects muscles and other soft tissues throughout the body. It is not known whether these disorders share a common cause.
TMJ Pain and Other TMD Symptoms
The most common symptom of TMJ disorder is pain in the chewing muscles or jaw joint, the onset of which is typically the first step toward diagnosis. TMJ pain is usually described as a dull ache in the temporomandibular joint and surrounding areas, such as the ears, neck and shoulders. Some people may have no pain, but still experience jaw functionality difficulties.
Other symptoms of TMJ disorder include the following:
- Pain or soreness in the jaw that is more prevalent in the morning or late afternoon
- Clicking or popping when opening or closing the mouth
- Swelling on the side of the face
- Sensitive teeth in the absence of dental problems
- An earache in the absence of an infection
- Difficulty opening and closing the mouth and/or chewing
- Upper and lower teeth that do not align properly (malocclusion)
- Stiffness or “locked” feeling in the jaw when talking, yawning or eating
- Jaw pain when chewing, biting or yawning
- Recent changes to the bite
- Frequently waking up with headaches or experiencing frequent tension headaches
Who Diagnoses TMD?
TMD patients may see multiple healthcare professionals in their quest for relief, including primary care physicians; ear, nose and throat specialists; neurologists; pain specialists; and chiropractors, among others.
However, your dentist can diagnose and treat most cases of TMD. In fact, according to the TMJ Association, Ltd., most patients with TMD are diagnosed and treated by dentists and oral surgeons.
TMJ can also lead to serious jaw problems. For instance, the jaw may become permanently “stuck” open, requiring a trip to the emergency room to forcibly close the mouth. In addition, the breakdown of the cartilage in the jaw over time not only leads to pain and unpleasant grinding sounds, it can also result in the dislocation of the jaw. Don’t wait for your TMJ to escalate, contact a TMJ specialist today for the treatment you need.