Also known as TMD or TMJ Disorder/Dysfunction affects the joints and muscles of the jaws. Millions of people each year suffer from mild to severe symptoms during jaw movements such as chewing, talking, and swallowing. Some even suffer when the jaws are not moving. TMJ Disorder can adversely affect your health and quality of life.
The TMJ is a complex joint; it connects your mandible (jawbone) to your temporal bone (skull) and is very well innervated (lots of nerves in the area). Its movement can be felt when you put your baby finger into your ear and open and close your mouth. By the way it should not hurt when you do this.
TMJ Disorder is often difficult to diagnose as it can mimic many other conditions, so if you are experiencing headaches (including migraine headaches) or jaw pain or tenderness that your MD is unable to adequately explain you may actually be suffering from TMJ Disorder. Other common symptoms of this disorder are:
- Limited opening
- Ear congestion or tinnitus (ringing)
- Postural problems
- Head, neck and shoulder tenderness or pain
- Sensitive teeth
- TMJ noises during movement (clicking or popping)
- Vertigo (dizziness)
- Clenching and/or bruxing (grinding)
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing
The cause of TMJ Disorder is often difficult to pin point. Sometimes an event, for example a blow to the head, can be the definitive injury to the joints but often it is the last straw in an already taxed system. The pain may build gradually over the years or it may come on all of a sudden. It is most often caused by a combination of several factors.
The diagnosis of TMJ Disorder occurs with a thorough examination of your muscles, teeth and joints. The treatment for TMJ Disorder may be as simple as rest, a soft diet and limited jaw movements for a few weeks but most often treatment consists of wearing an oral appliance (mouth guard or splint) overnight. In more severe instances an orthotic is fabricated to realign your joints and improve your bite.
As with many conditions the ideal scenario is the prevention of TMJ Disorders. This can be achieved by setting the stage for optimal growth and development in infants and children, by encouraging a functional bite through the teen years and limiting the amount of damage caused by clenching or bruxing in adulthood. Of course we will not be able to eliminate TMJ Disorders altogether but we are able to minimize them.