TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint. We each have two of these joints, and they are located on either side of the head, connecting the lower jaw, called the mandible, to the skull. The purpose of these joints is to allow the jaw to move, back and forth, up and down, so that we can eat, speak, yawn, etc. The parts of the bones in our jaw and skull that interact in the joint are covered with cartilage and are separated by a small disc that acts as a shock absorber. These keep the movement of our jaw smooth and painless. However, if the disc becomes eroded or moves out of proper alignment or the joint it damaged by a blunt force trauma, the joint may not work as well as it should. This is known as TMJ disorder, or sometimes, TMD.
In addition to trauma to the jaw, there are a number of other known causes of TMJ disorder. These include:
Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, both of which are inflammatory conditions that attack the joints of the body, including the TMJ.
Bruxism, a condition characterized by clenching and grinding of the teeth. These movements put excess pressure on the joints.
Some connective tissue and autoimmune diseases make patients more likely to experience TMJ disorder.
An uneven bite, which refers to the way that your teeth come together when you close your mouth.
Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorder.
Pain or tenderness in your jaw. This may come and go or be persistent. The severity can also vary, from severe to tolerable without pain medication.
Pain in one or both of the temporomandibular joints.
Aching pain in or around your ear. This is sometimes mistaken for earache.
Difficulty biting or chewing and experiencing pain while doing so.
Lockjaw, which is where the jaw becomes stuck in position. This can make it difficult to open or close your mouth. Lockjaw most often occurs when making a particularly wide mouth movement, such as yawning.
You may notice a clicking or popping sound when moving your jaw. You may even hear or feel a grating sensation when you open your mouth or chew.
Every patient is different, and this means that how you experience your symptoms can vary too. Equally, tolerance to pain can alter how significantly a patient is affected by the temporomandibular joint disorder.
Fortunately, there are a number of different therapies and treatments that can be used to successfully alleviate the symptoms associated with TMJ disorder and prevent future problems from occurring.
Pain relief and anti-inflammatory medications. These can be used to reduce any swelling in the joint as well as help you to manage discomfort associated with the condition.
Tricyclic antidepressants. These medications, which include the well-known antidepressant amitriptyline, can also be used to control pain, reduce episodes of bruxism, and improve the quality of your sleep.
Muscle relaxant medications. These medications are designed to reduce muscle contracture and help to relieve pain that occurs as a result of muscle spasms – something which is quite common in people with TMJ disorder.
Nightguard. Although a night guard won’t stop you from grinding your teeth if you have bruxism, it will help prevent the damage that can occur to them as a result of your habit, which can include erosion, chips, and cracking. Worn consistently, a nightguard could protect your bite from becoming even more uneven and will reduce pressure on the teeth and jaw that could be contributing towards TMJ disorder.
Steroid injections. It is possible to inject a corticosteroid into the temporomandibular joints which will help to counteract inflammation and reduce pain and stiffness. These must be administered by your dentist and must be carefully managed to prevent any side effects.
Surgery. In some very severe cases of TMJ disorder, where other treatments have failed to have the desired effect, patients may be recommended to undergo surgery to repair the joint and help it to move more easily.
For more information about the signs and symptoms of TMJ disorder, or if you’d like to schedule an appointment with our experienced team, don’t hesitate to get in touch.