What is TMJ?
TMJ stands for Temporo-mandibular Joint, often used to refer to the disorders associated with the joint.
The TMJ connects the lower jaw (mandible) to the temporal bone of the skull, enabling you to open your mouth and move the jaw from side to side. Such positioning and movement is controlled by the muscles attached to and surrounding the joint. In between the bones is a small shock absorbing disk to keep movement smooth and cushion the joint.
What are TMJ Disorders?
TMJ disorders can cause pain in the area of the joint and associated muscles and/or problems using the jaw. Both or just one of the joints may be affected. TMJ disorders can go from something as simple as a clicking jaw to affecting a person’s ability to speak, eat, chew, swallow, and even breathe.
TMJ disorders mainly fall into three categories, which can occur at the same time:
Myofascia/muscle connective tissue pain, causing discomfort or pain in the muscles that control jaw function, possibly extending to the muscles in the neck and shoulders.
Displacement of the disc that acts as a cushion between the skull and lower jaw.
Inflammatory joint disease, including arthritis, an inflammatory condition that affects a joint.
A number of factors can make people more prone to TMJ disorder:
- Having one dominant chewing side
- Grinding teeth
- Whiplash / neck injury
- Improperly fitting or worn down dentures
- Excessive chewing of gum or other foods that weaken jaw muscles
- Heavy telephone use holding the handset between the ear and shoulder
- Dental orthodontia
Signs and symptoms
The most common symptom of TMJ is a dull aching pain in the jaw joint or nearby areas, including the ear. Some people, however, feel no pain, while still experiencing problems using their jaw.
Other symptoms can include:
- Being unable to open the mouth comfortably
- Clicking, popping or grating sounds in the jaw joint
- Jaws that get stuck or lock in the open- or closed position (Trismus)
- A bite that feels uncomfortable
- Neck, shoulder and back pain
- Swelling on the side of the face
- Additional symptoms may include: ringing in the ears, ear pain, decreased hearing, dizziness and vision problems and sensitivity to light.