TMJ is the initialism for temporomandibular joint, which connects your lower jaw (the mandible) to your skull at the temporal bone. This joint controls many jaw functions, like chewing. If the chewing muscles or the joint itself are causing you pain you may have temporamandibular disorder, or TMD. TMD can be caused by stress, continual clenching of the jaw muscles, or teeth grinding.
Many of these symptoms can often be associated with other health problems, so only a medical professional can tell you if it is due to TMD. Teeth grinding is an especially problematic symptom because it can lead to further problems. Prolonged teeth grinding, or bruxism, can cause enamel to wear off teeth and expose dentin. This material is softer than enamel and more susceptible to decay. Sensitivity to hot and cold food or drink may also develop from excessive teeth grinding.
Causes of TMJ:
- Lower jaw trapped back in a posterior position
- An improper bite
- Direct blow to the jaw or head
- Whiplash injury from a rear end collision
- Extraction of back teeth
- Missing back teeth
- Excessive clenching or grinding of the teeth
A whiplash injury, which occurs by a collision from the rear, is one cause of TMJ disorders. Unique to this injury is the absence of a direct blow to the head or jaw. In this situation, the mouth opens excessively wide as the head is snapped back. The joints of the jaw dislocate if the collision from the rear is sufficiently forceful. In addition, the soft tissues posterior to the condyle (blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue) are compressed and damaged. Research by Arrington and Garcia documented that 95% of their research subjects suffered TMJ abnormalities after sustaining a whiplash injury. In a similar study, Pressman found that 88% suffered TMJ abnormalities.
Excessive clenching and grinding of the teeth when dealing with tension and stress often cause TMD. This type of TMJ disorder first begins in the jaw muscles. The clenching and grinding tire the muscles and trigger spasms. This produces pain and ultimately a TMD. Myofacial pain dysfunction is the term used to describe this set of circumstances.
Because TMD mimics many other medical problems, the TMD symptoms often go undiagnosed. If your physician finds no underlying conditions for symptoms such as frequent headaches, eye pain, or ear pain, he could consider the possibility of a TMJ disorder. Your physician can recommend that you consult a dentist who is properly trained in diagnosing TMD and non-surgical treatment of TMD. Surgical treatment is to be avoided as it builds scar tissue in the TMJ. This scar tissue creates more compression against the delicate soft tissues(blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue) posterior to the condyle, which will in turn eventually increase the intensity of the headaches and other symptoms of TMD. The famed Mayo Clinic no longer allows surgical treatment of TMD in their clinic because of this reason.
Symptoms of TMJ
- Clicking or popping noises in the TMJ
- Chronic Headaches
- Ear pain or ringing in the ears
- Jaw pain
- Eye pain
- Facial pain
- Difficulty in chewing or opening the mouth
- Jaws locking closed or locking open
- Neck/shoulder pain
- Misaligned teeth
It is estimated that more than 40 million Americans suffer from one or more of these symptoms. Most sufferers will not usually exhibit all these symptoms. Some persons may not have symptoms severe enough to justify treatment. However, about one of every eight Americans suffer frequent headaches and pain severe enough to disrupt their normal daily routine. If you suspect that you have a TMD and need help, contact our office. There is hope for you!
Dr. Hendry has extensive experience and can diagnose you and provide relief for your symptoms. Pain relievers and hot/cold compresses are short term methods to provide relief for pain symptoms. A night guard can be used to help prevent or lessen the effects of teeth grinding at night. This can lead to a more permanent solution. In very severe cases of TMD surgery may be required, but behavioral treatments to change the way you use your jaw muscles are usually enough to provide relief.