The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) can be compared to a sliding hinge that connects your jaw to your skull's temporal bones. There is cartilage covering the joint’s interacting bone parts. A small shock-absorbant disk keeps movements smooth, and separates them. There are two temporomandibular joints, one on each side of your jaw. They help your jaw move up and down and sideways so that you can chew, yawn and talk. Any problems with your jaw and facial muscles controlling your jaw are called TMJ disorders. They inflict pain in your jaw joint and the muscles controlling jaw movement. It's difficult to ascertain the cause for TMJ disorders because it may arise from problems to your jaw muscles or joint parts.
While most of the time, the cause for TMJ disorders isn't exact, there are a few possible causes like:
- Damaged joint cartilage because of arthritis
- Grinding and clenching of teeth
- Stress where you clench your teeth
- Injury to the joint
- Eroded or not correctly aligned discs
The pain and discomfort of TMJ disorders are usually temporary. However there are also cases where it may last many years. It can affect one or both sides of your face, and is most common in people aged between 20-40. It also seems to predominantly affect women.
There are a few common TMJ disorders symptoms like:
- Pain and tenderness in the joint area, face, neck, shoulders, and around your ear when you chew, speak, or open your mouth wide.
- Problem opening your mouth wide and your jaw getting 'stuck' in the open or closed position
- Clicking, grating or popping sounds in the jaw joint when opening or closing your mouth
- Tired feeling
- Trouble chewing or biting because your upper and lower teeth do not fit properly together
- Swelling on the face
Some people even complain of dizziness, earaches, ringing in the ears, headaches and hearing problems. It is better to consult your doctor if there is persistent pain or tenderness in the jaw. You may also need to consult your doctor if you cannot properly open or close your jaw. However, you may not require treatment if there's no pain or limitations of movement when your jaw clicks.
Some risk factors tend to increase the chances of developing TMJ disorders. They are:
- Different types of arthritis like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
- A chronic habit of grinding or clenching your teeth
- Injury to the jaw
- Connective tissue diseases that trigger TMJ joint problems
Your dentist will discuss your symptoms and examine your jaw. They will decide if you require an MRI, CT scan, TMJ arthroscope, or dental x-ray if they suspect there is a problem.
Most of the time, TMJ disorders resolve without any treatment. Your dentist may however recommend various treatment options if the symptoms persist. The common treatment options are:
- Medications to relieve the pain like pain relievers, anti-inflammatories or muscle relaxants
- Wearing soft or firm oral splints or mouth guards over the teeth to prevent teeth grinding
- Physical therapy like ultrasound, heat and ice and exercises to stretch and strengthen jaw muscles
- Counseling to help you understand the causes and triggers for your pain.
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