TMJ Disorder Management
The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, is a small joint located in front of the ear where the skull and the lower jaw meet. This joint allows the lower jaw (mandible) to move and function, and is the most constantly used joint in the body. The TMJ is a ball and Socket joint, and in this joint is a disc made of cartilage that acts as a cushion to absorb stress and allows the lower jaw to easily move when the mouth opens and closes.
At the back of the join, the disc attaches to tissue that contains nerves and blood vessels and can be quite sensitive. Ligaments hold the disc and lower jaw in place. Muscles surrounding the TMJ also help stabilize the joint as well as move the lower jaw during chewing, speaking and other functions.
The teeth themselves are also important for proper TMJ function, because if they don't fit together properly, stresses can be generated that can affect the joint and damage the disc, ligaments and muscles. Trauma can also damage the TMJ and inhibit proper function.
TMJ disorders can be relatively minor, or they can be extremely painful and potentially debilitating. TMJ suffers can display a variety of symptoms, and certain signs may indicate the potential for TMJ disorders to develop. The following are signs and symptoms that are possible in patients with TMJ problems:
- Painful clicks or pops in the joint when opening or closing the mouth
- A habit of tooth grinding or clenching
- Sore jaw muscles when awakening
- Difficulty in opening the mouth fully
- Frequent headaches or neck aches
- Pain in TMJ area
- Locking of the jaw
Presence of some of these signs and symptoms could also indicate a specific type of disorder known as myofascial pain dysfunction syndrome or MPD. This disorder is accompanied by muscle pain and tenderness, limitation in range of jaw motion, and local pain usually limited to one side of the face. This can be diagnosed during your consultation, and evaluate your need for possible TMJ treatment.
Damone E. Smith, D.D.S
Diplomate, American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
Adjunct Professor of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
Nova Southeastern University School of Dentistry
Florida Center for Oral Surgery & Dental Implants