What is TMJ?
The Temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, is the jaw joint where our lower jaw meets our skull. This joint includes the surrounding facial tissue and muscles that help in our functioning and moving of the jaw.
The TMJ is a hinge joint that is in front of our ears on both sides of our head. The joint, like our knee, is flexible to a limit and allows the jaw to move up, down, and side to side as we eat, chew, yawn, and talk.
When does the TMJ need to be treated?
There can be many causes of discomfort or disorder of the TMJ, but we typically see problems associated with the muscles or parts of the joint itself. Some causes include:
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Direct hits
- Increased pressure on the joint clenching or grinding of teeth
- Hyperextension of the joint causing dislocation of the cartilage or disc in the joint
- Arthritic changes present in the joint
- Stress from tightening or over exertion of facial muscles
Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment
Symptoms start to show up that may be short term or chronic. It appears more often with women than men and usually but not always between 20 and 40 years of age. Commonly, symptoms include feeling tired in the jaw, pain in and around the jaw, neck, or ear when you function, limited opening of your mouth, clicking / popping sounds, and difficulty bringing teeth together to chew. Other symptoms include headaches, earaches, ringing in the ears, and shoulder or neck pain. This may occur on both or one side only. It should be noted that other conditions need to be evaluated such as teeth, sinuses, and arthritis before making a diagnosis.
A complete exam and history in conjunction with radiographs may be used to help in the diagnosis.
Treatment involves basic options and surgery, with surgery being a last resort. Basic/ conservative treatment involves palliative care with limiting activity, moist heat, medications, and splint therapy that is designed specifically for you. It should be noted that continued and ongoing treatment of the TMJ may be required.