TMD (commonly called TMJ disorder) is not just one disorder, but a group of conditions, often very painful, that affect the jaw joint (temporomandibular joint, or TMJ) and the muscles that control chewing abilities. An unknown fact by many is that TMJ disorder appears to affect about twice as many women as men.
What Is the Temporomandibular Joint?
The temporomandibular joint connects the lower jaw, called the mandible, to the temporal bone at the side of the head. If you place your fingers just in front of your ears and open your mouth, you can feel the joint move on each side of your head. Since these joints are flexible, the jaw is able to move smoothly up and down and side to side, which enables us to talk, chew and yawn. Muscles attached to and surrounding the jaw joint control it’s position and movement.
When we open our mouths, the rounded ends of the lower jaw, called condyles, glide along the joint socket of the temporal bone. The condyles slide back to their original position when we close our mouths. To keep this motion smooth, a soft disc lies between the condyle and the temporal bone. This disc absorbs shocks to the TMJ from chewing and other movements.
TMJ Disorder Symptoms
A variety of symptoms may be linked to TMD or TMJ disorder. The most common symptom that patients experience from TMJ disorder is pain in the chewing muscles and/or in the jaw joint. Other commonly experienced symptoms include:
- Limited movement or locking of the jaw
- Radiating pain in the face, neck or shoulders
- Painful clicking, popping or grating sounds in the jaw joint when opening or closing the mouth
- A sudden, major change in the way the upper and lower teeth fit together
Symptoms such as headaches, earaches, dizziness and hearing problems may occur and can sometimes be related to TMD. It is important to keep in mind, however, that occasional discomfort in the jaw joint or chewing muscles is quite common and is generally not a cause for concern. Researchers are working to clarify TMD symptoms, with the goal of developing easier and better methods of diagnosis and improved treatment.
At Three Trees Dental we have a number of treatment options including simple splinting (removable mouthpieces), pharmacotherapy, and even physical therapy.