TMJ Is Actually TMD – Temporomandibular Disorder
Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) occur as a result of problems with the jaw, jaw joint and surrounding facial muscles that control chewing and moving the jaw. These disorders are often incorrectly called TMJ, which stands for temporomandibular joint, since this is the affected joint. It is also called TMJD, for temporomandibular joint disorder, which is probably the most descriptive term.
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the hinge joint that connects the lower jaw (mandible) to the temporal bone of the skull, in front of the ear on each side of your head. The flexible joints allow the jaw to move smoothly up and down and side to side. The movement of the jaw is controlled by muscles surrounding the TMJ.
What Causes TMJ (TMD)?
The cause of TMJD is not clear, but dentists believe that symptoms arise from problems with the muscles of the jaw or with the parts of the joint itself.
Injury to the jaw, temporomandibular joint, or muscles of the head and neck – such as from a heavy blow or whiplash – can cause TMD. Other possible causes include:
- Grinding or clenching the teeth, which puts a lot of pressure on the TMJ
- Dislocation of the soft cushion or disc between the ball and socket
- Presence of osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis in the TMJ
- Stress, which can cause a person to tighten facial and jaw muscles or clench the teeth
Although the cause of most of these disorders is not known, there are some known contributing factors to the development of TMJ disorders. Among them are:
- autoimmune diseases
- injuries to the jaw area
- dental procedures
- stretching of the jaw as occurs with inserting a breathing tube before surgery
- various forms of arthritis
Genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors can also increase the risk for TMJD. Studies have shown that a particular gene variant increases sensitivity to pain and this variant has been found to be more prevalent among TMJD patients than among the populations at large. The observation that TMJD are commonly found in women in their childbearing years has also led to research to determine the role of female sex hormones in these disorders. Environmental factors such as habitual gum chewing or sustained jaw positions may also contribute to TMJD.
Symptoms of TMJ
The pain of TMJ is usually described as a dull, aching pain which comes and goes. It is generally felt in the jaw joint and nearby areas. There are some people who report no pain, but still have problems using their jaws.
TMJ symptoms can include:
- pain in the jaw muscles
- pain in the neck and shoulders
- chronic headaches
- jaw muscle stiffness
- limited movement or locking of the jaw
- ear pain, pressure
- painful clicking, popping or grating in the jaw joint when opening or closing the mouth
- a bite that feels “off”
Less common symptoms include: ringing in the ears (tinnitus), dizziness, and vision problems.
TMJ Treatment Options
There are many options for treatment of TMJ, ranging from literally doing nothing, to elaborate devices or even surgery in extreme cases. TMJ often will just ease away over time, but often it will not.
Anti-inflammatory pain medicines, such as ibuprofen, will help with TMJ sometimes, but should not be used to excess. There are also dentists that specialize in the treatment of TMJ. There are many who tend to encourage resting the jaw, eating soft foods, avoiding stress, and so on as a treatment for TMJ. Others recommend mouthpieces or other devices, ad still others recommend exercises.
TMJ exercises are a great way to treat and relieve the pain of this annoying affliction. That is what finally worked for me. I tried several things, including a mouthpiece and way too much ibuprofen, but in the end, Sandra Carter’s book of TMJ Exercises worked best for me. Find out more here.