The temporomandibular joints, or "TMJ" for short, are a pair of joints that connect the jawbone to the skull. They are rather unique in human anatomy in that they are bilateral yet function as a single unit; the nature of their function makes it rather problematic if one side of the joint happens to become impaired or outright damaged. If you happen to sense pain or sensitivity in this particular joint of your mouth, especially after you have suffered recent exposure to a traumatic stimulus, there is a good chance that you may have developed some form of TMJ disorder.
While there can be more than one sort of TMJ disorder, it is important to look over the exact symptoms and triggering moments so that you can receive the best possible treatment. The rest of this article will go into some degree of detail regarding the causes, symptoms and restorative measures for several known varieties of TMJ disorder.
Causes of TMJ Disorders
TMJ disorders are categorized as a system complex, meaning that there are several different elements that can run into issues and contribute to the overall issue. The included list is just a portion of what can lead to someone developing one.
- Displaced Articular Disc - Something goes wrong, causing the lateral pterygoid to contract when the mouth closes. Normally, this disc would be open.
- Degenerative Joint Disease - This can be attributed to either arthritis or arthrosis. It should be clarified that arthrosis, when discussing TMJ, refers to a slightly different situation than it would in general medicine; arthrosis that comes up in discussions of TMJ refers to a condition with little to no inflammation around the joint.
- Psychosocial Issues - Emotional distress can contribute to a cycle of anxiety, pain and tension, leading to issues with the joint. The ensuing pain can be enough to discourage chewing, which slowly leads to atrophy of the surrounding musculature.
- Bruxism - This is a habit where a person excessively clenches or grinds their teeth.
Symptoms of TMJ Disorders
There are multiple varieties of TMJ disorder, all of them affecting some part of the system humans use for chewing, be it the bones, connective tissues, ligaments, muscles, nerves, tendons or even the teeth. Such disorders are also affiliated with cervical spine dysfunction and misalignment between the head and cervical spine.
There are three major elements of TMJ Disorders.
- Pain and Tenderness - This can be felt around the related muscles or in the joint itself, especially when chewing, clenching teeth or yawning and more severely when waking up. Such pain is dull, recurring and poorly localized but tends to only manifest on one side of the jaw.
- Limited mandibular movement - A stiffness or outright locking of the jaw muscles and joints can occur, making it hard to eat or chew.
- Noises from working the jaws - Clicking, popping or even grating sounds can arise while moving the lower jaw.
Other known symptoms of TMJ disorders can include: headaches, pain in the teeth and neck, hearing loss, occasional tinnitus, dizziness and dental malocclusion.
Because of the nature of this particular condition, several different ways to manage or treat the condition have arisen. They include:
- Psychosocial/Behavioral Options - Methods such as cognitive behavior therapy, hypnosis and even yoga have been known to help.
- Occlusal Splints - Sometimes known as a bite plate, this is an acrylic device that the patient wears over his teeth for a prolonged period of time in order to slowly shape the jaw back into alignment.
Medication - This is one of the leading courses of treatment to cope with pain from TMJ disorder.
- Physiotherapy - The patient engages in physical exercises that are designed to reorient the joint into a comfortable, more natural arrangement. Other methods include transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), which switches off the notice of pain by causing a surge of endorphins to flood the patient's body.
- Occlusal adjustment - This is mostly in the domain of orthodontic healthcare and involves using external devices to shift the jaw into a more suitable permanent position.