The temporomandibular joint plays an integral role in the motion of the jaw and mouth. Located on each side of the mouth, each joint acts as a sort of “hinge” that allows you to open and close your mouth, making it possible to speak, chew, and swallow. Together with facial muscles and ligaments, the temporomandibular joints control the mandible, or lower jaw, allowing it to move forward, backward, and side to side.
TMJ is used as an abbreviation for disorders of the temporomandibular joint. TMJ affects the muscles and ligaments that make up the temporomandibular joint and cause pain, tenderness, and stiffness in the area. They are caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, injury, and stress levels. In more extreme cases, TMJ disorder can cause so much pain and stiffness that it can be difficult to open or shut the jaw.
TMJ Signs and Symptoms
TMJ disorders can cause symptoms such as:
- Pain, tenderness, and stiffness of the jaw
- Pain in one or both temporomandibular joints
- A “clicking” or “grating” sound when you chew or open your mouth
- Pain or aches in or around the ear
- Difficulty or pain while chewing
- Facial pain or tenderness
- Recurring headaches
- Joint “locks” up, making it hard to open or close your mouth
Common Causes of TMJ
The area that controls the movement of the jaw muscles contains a disk of cartilage between the ball and socket of the temporomandibular joint. If that disk gets damaged for any reason, such as arthritis or an injury to the jaw, TMJ disorder may develop. An uneven bite or misaligned jaw can also cause the disk to get damaged or misaligned, leading to TMJ pain. Long-term teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, is another common cause of TMJ. A diet with many hard or hard-to-chew foods, such as crunchy potato chips or chewy candy bars, may also play a role in causing TMJ pain. Stress has also been linked to both bruxism and TMJ. The causes behind TMJ disorders are not always apparent, but the pain will continue to worsen if left untreated.
If you’re experiencing symptoms that indicate you may have TMJ, you should see your doctor or dentist, such as Dr. Tomazin, as soon as you can. Your dentist will check your jaw and teeth by observing the motion of your mouth as you open and shut your jaw and also pressing on specific areas to check for tenderness or pain. Your dentist will also listen for any audible “clicking” or grinding. You may need to get X-rays or other scans if further examination is needed. Once diagnosed, you can begin to discuss what treatment options are available.
Your dentist will help you develop a plan to treat your TMJ upon diagnosis. Some treatments for TMJ include:
- Change in diet
- Physical exercises
- Pain relief remedies
- A night guard to decrease bruxism
Contact us today to find out more about TMJ and how to treat it.