The Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) is the small joint located in front of your ear where your skull and lower jaw meet. The TMJ moves every time you talk, yawn, chew or swallow, making it one of the most frequently used joints in your body. Combining a hinge action with a sliding action also makes it one of the most complex joints in the body.
If you place your fingers in front of your ears, on the triangular structure in the front of the ear, you can feel the joints on the left and right side of your head. Then move your finger slightly forward and press firmly while you open and close your jaw. The motion you feel is the TMJ joint.
Because of its complexity, disorders of the TMJ joint are common, affecting between 5 and 15 percent of the US population. These disorders can occur as a result of misalignment of the disk, cartilage damage from arthritis, poor oral habits, missing teeth, injury or overuse. The cause may be unknown in some patients. TMJ disorders occur in patients of all ages, and are also more likely to occur in patients with poor oral habits such as jaw clenching or teeth grinding.
Patients with TMJ disorders often experience:
- Pain and tenderness in the jaw
- Difficulty chewing
- Aches and pains in the face
- Pain around the ear
- Locking of the jaw
- Uneven bite
- Clicking sound when opening the jaw
These symptoms can vary in intensity from mildly noticeable to severely debilitating. Some patients may experience other symptoms as well from this condition. Pain is the defining characteristic of TMJ disorders, and is usually required for a proper diagnosis. Your dentist can diagnose this condition by performing an X-ray or CT scan to thoroughly examine the bones of the joint.
Treatment of TMJ disorders focuses on relieving pain and correcting joint damage. Many patients will find some relief from home remedies such as stretching and massaging the jaw, maintaining a proper resting position of the jaw and avoiding overuse of the jaw muscles by eating softer foods cut up into small pieces. TMJ disorders with moderate to severe pain will benefit from treatments that our pediatric and general dentists can offer including pharmacologic agents, appliance therapy, diet and modification of behavior and posture.
Our general and pediatric dentists will fabricate different types of oral appliances depending upon your needs. Replacement of missing and broken down teeth in coordination with oral appliances often helps stabilize the bite and provide relief from TMJ pain. In some situations, physical therapy and surgical treatment may be required. As our pediatric dentists, Dr. George and Dr. Sajnani or our general dentists, Dr. Zimbardi and Dr. David which combination of therapies is best for you.