The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the hinge that connects the lower jaw to the upper jawbone. It functions through five pairs of muscles attached to the facial bones. The juncture where the two joints are connected has a disc that acts like a shock absorber for biting and chewing functions. The temporomandibular joint is quite complex because it is capable of making many different types of movements, including combinations of hinge and gliding actions. Any problem that prevents this system of structures from working together properly may result in pain, tenderness and damage to the tissue and joint. This is known as TMJ or temporomandibular dysfunction (TMD).
TMJ can cause significant pain and impairment. Although a poor bite (malocclusion) is often the cause of TMJ syndrome, it is possible that the cause lies elsewhere including arthritis, trauma or even severe stress. Bruxism (the habit of repetitive clenching or grinding of teeth), has been shown to be a contributing factor as well. Excessive gum chewing or nail biting can also exacerbate the problem.
Symptoms that TMJ sufferers may experience include:
- Headache and/or facial pain
- Ear ache
- Jaw pain or tenderness of the jaw
- Neck and shoulder pain
- Difficulty in opening the mouth and chewing (limited movement)
- Jaws that get stuck, lock, or go out
- Hearing a clicking, cracking or popping sound on opening and closing the mouth
- Pain brought on by yawning, opening the mouth widely, or chewing
Treatment options for patients with TMJ include:
Placing hot or cold packs on the area of involvement. This may provide some temporary pain relief
Corrective dental treatment which may include balancing the biting surfaces of the teeth, replacing needed fillings or crowns, or using a bit guard
Over-the-counter pain medications. If over-the-counter pain medications are not enough to relieve TMJ pain, your dentist may prescribe stronger painkillers or muscle relaxants
Biostimulation with the Nd:YAG laser. This treatment reduces inflammation, is non-invasive and is performed about an inch away from the skin
Some alternative treatment options for treating TMS pain include transcutaneous electrical neurostimulation (TENS), or Botox injections. Your dentist can advise you if these would be appropriate options to consider.
Surgical treatment may be considered for a small percentage of patients when all other treatment options have failed, however, surgery may not always resolve TMD issues.
It is very important for your dentist to get a complete health/dental history in order to be able to make an accurate diagnosis and recommend an effective treatment plan.