The Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) is the small joint located in front of your ear where your skull and your lower jaw meet. The TMJ moves every time you talk, yawn, chew or swallow. It is one of the most frequently used joints in your body.
If you place your fingers in front of your ears, on the triangular structure in front of your ear, you can feel the joints on the left and right sides of your head. Move your finger just slightly forward and press firmly while you shift your jaw all the way open and shut. The motion you feel is in the TMJ.
The Three Classifications of TMJ Disorders:
- Internal Derangement of the Joint: A dislocated jaw, displaced TMJ disc or, injury to the lower jaw can result in TMJ disorders.
- Degenerative Joint Disease: This can be as a result of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or, a perforated TMJ disc.
- Myofascial Pain Disorder: When pain and discomfort occur in the muscles surrounding the jaw joint or neck and shoulder it can result in dysfunction of the TMJ .
Causes of TMJ Disorders
The causes of TMJ disorders are often considered multi-factorial and may be related to the following:
- Trauma to the head or neck
- Oral habits such as clenching or grinding of the teeth
- “Bad” bite or missing teeth
- Malalignment of the upper and lower jaw
Symptoms of TMJ Disorders
- Chronic facial pain in the face, jaw, neck and shoulders and in or around the ear
- Limited ability to open the mouth wide
- Difficulty chewing
- Uncomfortable bite
- Swelling either on one or both sides of the face
- Clicking or popping noises when opening the mouth
- Headaches and neck aches
The severity of these conditions may range from mildly noticeable to seriously debilitating pain. These symptoms are not all inclusive for TMJ disorders, but represent some of the most common complaints that clinicians hear from their patients. Some of these symptoms are observed in many clinical conditions and it is important that the patient undergo a thorough clinical examination and medical history by a qualified maxillofacial surgeon.
Treatment of your temporomandibular joint disorder may range from conservative dental and medical care to complex surgery. Your treatment may include short term care such as pain medication, muscle relaxation, bite plate or splint therapy and, at times, stress reduction counseling.
If non-surgical treatment is unsuccessful or if there is joint damage, surgery may be indicated. Surgery can range from the least invasive, arthocentesis, to arthroscopy or open joint surgery.