TMJ conditions

TMJ disorder is a condition that affects the jaw joint (this is also known as the temporomandibular joint); this is the joint which connects the lower jaw bone (the mandible) to the skull. The TMJ is located just under the temples at the side of the ear canal. This joint is important because it enables the movements which open and close the mouth. Usually, problems with the TMJ are known as TMJ disorder, but conditions affecting this joint may also be known as TMJ dysfunction and myofascial pain disorder.

Are TMJ conditions common?

Conditions affecting the temporomandibular joint are quite common, with 1 in 10 people suffering some kind of condition relating to the joint in their lifetime.

Is this is a serious condition?

In the vast majority of cases, TMJ disorders are not serious conditions and can be easily treated.

What are the symptoms of TMJ disorder?

The most common symptoms of TMJ disorder are pain, which usually occurs by the ear canal and a lack of movement in the jaw joint. In some cases, pain may also be felt in the cheek, temples and the ear. Pain will often be more severe when the jaw joint is moved. Some people who have TMJ disorder hear clicking noises when the mouth is opened and closed and during chewing; this does not necessarily mean there is a problem as it is fairly normal but it may be advisable to get it checked out by a doctor or dentist. In some cases, people may experience problems that relate to the ear being affected by TMJ disorder; this may cause problems with balance and may make people feel dizzy or nauseous.

What are the causes of TMJ disorder?

The causes of TMJ disorder are usually categorised into muscular and joint problems; muscular problems are caused by the muscles which surround the joint and bring about movement, while joint problems are a result of damage or irritation of structures inside the joint.

Examples of causes of muscular problems include overuse of the muscles surrounding the jaw; the most common example of this is clenching the jaw repeatedly at night, which a lot of people do without realising. In very rare cases, the jaw may be overexerted as a result of a health condition known as orofacial dystonias.

Joint problems are caused by conditions or actions which affect the structures in the jaw joint; common causes of problems include osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis; these conditions cause the cartilage to wear down over time, which may cause swelling and pain. Injury to the joint can also cause pain; usually these injuries occur as a result of an accident or sporting injury, for example where direct impact damages the joint.

How is TMJ disorder diagnosed?

Patients who suffer from pain in the teeth or jaw joint when the jaw is clenched are usually diagnosed with TMJ disorder by a dentist. In some cases, x-rays, MRI scans and blood tests may also be used to determine the exact cause of the pain.

What treatments are available?

Most of the treatments available for TMJ disorder are fairly simple; these include over the counter pain relief, resting the jaw and wearing a protective mouth guard at night to prevent the jaw from clenching. In some more complex cases, surgery may be required; this is usually necessary when the disc in the joint needs repositioning or there is evidence of adhesions inside the jaw joint. In some cases, TMJ disorder is caused by orthodontic problems, which are usually associated with an over, under or cross bite; this affects the alignment of the upper and lower sets of teeth and the jaw joint when the mouth is closed. Orthodontic treatment, such as wearing a brace, will help this type of problem.

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