What is Temporomandibular (TMJ) Disorder?
The temporomandibular joint is the hinge joint that connects the lower jaw (mandible) to the temporal bone of the skull, which is immediately in front of the ear on each side of your head. TMJ disorders occur as a result of problems with the jaw, jaw joint and surrounding facial muscles that control chewing and moving the jaw.
What Causes TMJ Disorder?
Trauma to the jaw or temporomandibular joint plays a role in some TMJ disorders, but for most jaw joint and muscle problems, scientists don’t know the causes. Dentists believe symptoms arise from problems with the muscles of your jaw or with the parts of the joint itself. Currently, there is little scientific evidence to show which treatments work and which don't.
How is TMJ Diagnosed?
Because many other conditions can cause similar symptoms to TMJ disorders – including a toothache, sinus problems, arthritis or gum disease – your dentist or general practitioner will conduct a careful patient history and clinical examination to determine the cause of your symptoms. A thorough examination may involve:
- A dental examination to show if you have poor bite alignment
- Feeling the joint and muscles for tenderness
- Pressing around the head to locate areas that are sensitive or painful
- Sliding the teeth from side to side
- Watching, feeling, and listening to the jaw open and shut
- X-rays or MRI of the jaw
- Your doctor will also need to consider other conditions, such as infections, ear infections, or nerve-related problems and headaches, as the cause of your symptoms.
What Can I Do?
Try simple self-care practices such as eating soft foods, using ice packs and avoiding extreme jaw movements, like wide yawning and gum chewing.
Avoid treatments that cause permanent changes in the bite or jaw. Such treatments include crown and bridge work to balance the bite, orthodontics to change the bite, grinding down teeth to bring the bite into balance (occlusal adjustment), and repositioning splints, which permanently change the bite.
Avoid, where possible, surgical treatment for TMJ. There have been no long-term studies to test the safety and effectiveness of these procedures.
If You Think You Have a TMJ Disorder…
Remember that for most people, discomfort from TMJ disorders will eventually go away on its own. If treatment is needed, it should be based on a reasonable diagnosis, be conservative and reversible, and be customized to your special needs. Because there is no certified specialty for TMJ disorders in either dentistry or medicine, finding the right care can be difficult. Look for a health care provider who understands musculoskeletal disorders (affecting muscle, bone and joints) and who is trained in treating pain conditions.