TMJ disorders, also known as temporomandibular joint disorders or TMD, are conditions that cause pain in the jaw joint and surrounding muscles that control the movement of the jaw. Also, they affect the ability to speak, chew, and swallow. It is difficult to determine the underlying cause of TMJ disorders. However, researchers suggest that a combination of factors are responsible for TMJ disorders such as jaw injury, teeth grinding, and arthritis.
What is The TMJ?
Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint that connects the jaw to the temporal bone of the skull (in front of each ear). It allows the movement of the lower jaw against the upper jaw, so you can speak and eat. The bony structures of the TMJ are covered with cartilage and separated by the articular disc.
Symptoms of TMJ Disorders
The most common symptoms of TMJ disorders is a pain in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and surrounding areas, including the ear. Other symptoms include:
- A headache.
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
- Jaw pain.
- Jaw muscles pain.
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Blurred vision.
- Clicking, popping, or crepitus during the movement of the jaw.
- Limited jaw movement.
- Facial Pain.
- Neck and shoulder pain.
Patients suffering from these symptoms should consult a TMJ specialist to discuss the possible causes and treatment options.
Causes of TMJ Disorders
It is difficult to determine the exact cause of TMJ disorders. However, researchers suggest that TMJ disorders are not caused by a single factor but by a combination of several factors, include:
- Changes in the bite caused by missing teeth and too high restoration, crown, or bridge.
- Emotional stress (psychosocial factors).
- Trauma to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ).
- Genetic factors.
- Operation in the head and neck area.
- Parafunctional habits such as teeth grinding and nail-biting.
- Frequent malposition of the head, for example by sleeping on the stomach.
- Poor posture.
- Dislocation of the cartilage disc in the temporomandibular joint (disc displacement).
- Arthritis such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Diagnosis of TMJ Disorders
The goal of the diagnosis is to determine which factors trigger the symptoms and how strongly each factor is responsible for TMJ disorders. First, the dentist will perform a physical examination. He/She will:
- Listen to the temporomandibular joint when you open or close your mouth.
- Check the range of movement of the lower jaw.
- Identify the areas of pain.
- Ask you about your medical and dental history.
Also, the dentist may ask for:
- Dental x-rays: to check the condition of the teeth.
- Computed Tomography (CT): the check the bones involved in the joint.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): to check the TMJ disc.
Treatment of TMJ Disorders
For the treatment of TMJ disorders, the dentist may recommend a variety of treatment options, depending on the underlying causes.
- Medications: your dentist may prescribe painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve the pain such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs NSAIDs. Also, he/she may prescribe a muscle relaxant if you have teeth grinding.
- Medications for anxiety and depression: the dentist may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication to relieve anxiety and tension which may be responsible for TMJ disorders.
- Oral splint or night guard: They alleviate the TMJ pain caused by teeth grinding.
- Dental treatments: your dentist will use implants, bridges, dentures, and braces to replace missing teeth and correct the bite.
- Surgical procedures: if other treatment options can’t help, your doctor may suggest a surgical procedure such as arthrocentesis, arthroscopy, and open-joint surgery.
Home Treatments for TMJ Disorders
- Heat and cold: apply an ice pack or a warm towel to the side of your face to relieve the pain.
- Avoid extreme mouth opening: avoid crunchy and chewy foods, and eat soft foods such as yogurt and mashed potatoes. Also, cut foods into small pieces and avoid anything that forces you to open wide such as yelling and singing.
- Relaxation techniques: practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga to relieve stress. Also, perform exercises that stretch and strengthen your jaw muscles. Ask your dentist or physical therapist how to massage the muscles yourself.
In some cases, the symptoms of TMJ disorders are temporary and may go away without treatment.