The temporomandibular joint, commonly referred to as TMJ, is a joint that hinges the jaw onto the side of the face to the temporal bones of the skull. This joint can be located and felt beneath the ears. Attached to this joint are muscles, ligaments, and tendons that work cohesively with this joint to perform various movements. This joint allows for a range of motion that allow you to open your mouth wide, close your mouth, move your jaw side-to-side, and move the jaw with a forward protrusion motion and backward retraction motion. This joint is one of the most complex joints in the body because it is both a hinge and gliding type joint. These movements are what allow you to speak, chew, yawn, and sing to name a few. When there is a dysfunction in this joint then we refer to this as TMD, which is short for temporomandibular disorders.
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), TMD is the most common cause of chronic facial pain and jaw malfunction. More than 10 million people in the United States suffer with a type of TMD.
The main categories for TMJ disorders or TMD are:
- Myofascial pain: There is increased tension in the muscles surrounding the joint which causes localized pain
- Internal derangement: physical trauma to the joint such as jaw dislocation
- Degenerative joint disease: such as arthritis
Risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing TMD include chronic teeth grinding, a term we refer to as bruxism, a jaw injury, and joint degenerative diseases such as arthritis.
Signs and symptoms for TMD also vary for each individual. Some of the most common signs and symptoms include:
- Popping or "clicking" sound when opening the jaw
- Jaw lock
- limited range of motion in the jaw
- neck pain
- ringing in the ears, referred to as tinnitus
- muscle tension and spasms
- localized sensitivity to the joint
TMJ disorders vary by case, therefore, each case requires a treatment plan that is individualized for the client. While some clients may find that their TMD resolves itself rather quickly, others may find that their TMD is more persistent despite taking corrective measures.
Diagnosing TMD begins with a series of imaging performed by your dentist. Your dentist analyzes these images to evaluate the current damage and schedule the severity of the disorder. Your dentist may need other diagnostic tools to assist in determining the presence of a TMJ disorder.
Treatments for TMJ disorders vary according to the individual. For mild to moderate TMD, a mouth guard at night may be all that is needed to alleviate the joint strain. If the TMJ disorder is more advanced, the client may need steroid injections for relief and occlusal adjustments. However, if the TMJ disorder is severe surgery may be suggested.
At home-care that patients can participate to alleviate their TMJ disorder include eating soft foods, limiting certain movements such as chewing gum, hot and cold therapy, stress reduction techniques, and stretching exercises that promote the relaxation of the jaw. Short term relief can be offered through the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen, or your doctor may prescribe a stronger pain medication such as a muscle relaxant.