The temporomandibular joint is abbreviated as TMJ. Your temporomandibular joints are placed immediately in front of your ears on both sides of your face. The TMJs are the joints that link your lower jawbone to your skull and help you chew and speak.
Temporomandibular joint disease (TMD) — also called TMJ disorder — is a condition that affects the jaw joint. The phrases TMJ and TMD are often used interchangeably.
When the muscles and ligaments surrounding your jaw joints become inflamed or irritated, TMJ dysfunction occurs. TMJ pain might be minor or severe, depending on whether the illness is acute or persistent.
What Causes TMJ Disorder?
The temporomandibular joint works by combining the actions of hinging and sliding. The cartilage that covers the sections of the bones that make the joint work is separated by a small shock-absorbing disc, which generally makes the movements smooth.
The disorder may occur when the disk erodes or becomes misaligned, arthritis damages the joint’s cartilage, or the joint is injured due to some kind of impact. Other causes can include the habit of teeth grinding (bruxism), stress, or an improper bite.
Genetic, hormonal, or environmental factors may also have a role in causing TMJ disorder. Violinists, for example, have been found to have a greater risk of TMJ issues than the general population, because their work requires them to hold an instrument beneath their jaw. This can lead to strain on the temporomandibular joint.
Because it has been discovered that women are more likely than men to suffer from TMJ issues, experts are actively investigating the hormonal reasons for the temporomandibular joint. While the exact cause is unknown, researchers are hoping to learn more about the link between the female hormone estrogen and TMD.
The Signs of Having TMJ Disorder
Strange popping, clicking, or even grinding sounds that might occur while eating, talking, or merely opening the mouth is a common but typically mild symptoms. TMJ issues are not usually identified by noises made when moving the jaw. Jaw noises are not typically considered unhealthy. Only when the sounds are accompanied by pain or limited jaw mobility should you seek medical help.
Earaches can be accompanied by buzzing, ringing, or numbness in the ears, and these symptoms are linked to TMJ disorder.
The pain felt when moving the jaw is one of the most prominent symptoms of TMJ.
Headaches or migraines, neck discomfort or backache, and earaches or pain around the ear that radiates to the cheeks are all possible signs of the disorder. Before identifying TMJ disorder, a doctor will typically examine for additional symptoms if the discomfort is not near the jaw.
If you are suffering from the restricted movement of the jaw, so you cannot fully open your mouth or move the jaw in certain directions, then you may consult a doctor regarding TMJ.
How Do Doctors Diagnose TMJ?
TMJ symptoms are often similar to other oral health issues, such as sinus problems, gum disease, and tooth decay. This is why it is important to get a proper diagnosis so that the root cause can be identified.
For TMJ diagnoses, the dentist will examine your jaw choices for tenderness or pain. They will observe them closely and listen for clicking or popping sounds when you move your jaws. During this phase, they will ensure your jaw functions properly. They will also test your bite and facial muscles. For a closer look, they will take full face x-rays. It allows them to view your jaws, teeth, and temporomandibular joints. This step is important since it will help them rule out any other problem with your dental health.
In some cases, a CT scan or MRI may also be required. The former shows the joint’s bony detail while the latter demonstrates the position of the TMJ disc in accordance with the jaw movement.
After the diagnosis, you may be referred to an oral and maxillofacial surgeon for further treatment plan.
Your temporomandibular joint treatment plan will be devised according to your condition and symptoms. Usually, dentists opt for the following treatment methods:
Dentists may prescribe certain medications, including pain relievers, anti-inflammatory, and muscle relaxants, for TMJ along with non-invasive treatments. They are mostly prescribed to alleviate the pain.
TMJ may also be treated using non-drug therapies. These include physical therapy, counseling, and mouth guards.
Surgical and Non-surgical Treatments
If none of the aforementioned methods work, your dentist may recommend surgical or non-surgical treatments for TMJ. These include:
- TMJ Arthroscopy
- Modified Condylotomy
- Open-joint Surgery
If you believe you are experiencing TMJ pain, then you should seek help from a dental specialist. To learn more or book an appointment, please call or visit Sue Vetter’s dental clinic.