The jaw is a remarkable structure that makes essential daily activities like talking and eating possible. An important part of the jaw is the tempromandibular joint (TMJ), a hinge connecting the jaw to the area of your skull that is just in front of the ears.
Problems with the TMJ are known as temporomandibular disorders, or TMD. TMD may also be mistakenly referred to as TMJ, after the joint.
TMD may be painful, and can be temporary or last for years. It is more prevalent among women between the ages of 20 and 40, but it may affect persons of both sexes at any age.
Symptoms of TMD may include:
- Pain or tenderness in the jaw or the area surrounding the ear
- Pain or tension in the area around the neck and shoulders
- Difficulty or discomfort when attempting to open the mouth or when chewing
- A popping or clicking sound when opening the mouth
- Swelling in the area surrounding the jaw
- Locking of the jaw in either the open or closed position
TMD may affect one or both sides of the face. TMD may also contribute to toothaches, headaches and dizziness.
Dentists are not entirely sure what directly causes TMD. As is possible with other joints, problems like inflammation, sore muscles, strained or torn ligaments, and disc problems may play a contributing role.
Other suspected causes:
- Whiplash or other injury to the jaw, head or neck area
- Grinding or clenching of the teeth
- Genetic factors
- Physical and psychological stress
In some cases, TMD may be related to a larger and more serious musculoskeletal condition known as fibromyalgia.
Treatment begins with a proper diagnosis by your dentist. He or she can conduct a physical exam and use X-rays or other imaging procedures to help determine the extent of your condition.
Your dentist will recommend conservative treatments at first, including the use of over-the-counter pain relievers, heat or cold packs, and relaxation techniques. In severe cases, other strategies such as orthodontic treatment or dental restorations (like bridgework) may be used.
If none of these methods prove effective, surgery may be considered as a last resort; however, these cases are rare and surgery is not usually necessary.