Why Does TMJ Occur?
The temporo-mandibular joint is the joint where your lower jaw bone is connected to the temporal bone of your skull. It is covered with a thin layer of cartilage and separated by a small disk. This joint is almost constantly in use as you eat, speak and swallow.
Pain is experienced in this joint due to wear and tear; stress that expresses itself in grinding or clenching the teeth; misalignment of the upper and lower jaws; and, sometimes, arthritis.
What Are the Symptoms?
TMJ pain can express itself in any of the following symptoms:
- Ear pain
- Tenderness or pain in the jaw muscles
- Temple/cheek pain
- Jaw popping or clicking
- Frequent headaches
Causes of TMJ
TMJ pain is often caused by wear and tear, or the overuse, of the joint due to stress, anxiety and tension. These feelings cause many people to clench their jaws or grind their teeth, putting extra strain on the joint and muscles surrounding the joint.
Another cause of pain is misalignment of the upper and lower jaws that can occur naturally or as the result of an injury. Improperly aligned jaws cause an uneven bite, producing additional wear and tear on one joint or the other.
In addition, since the TMJ is a joint like all other joints in our bodies, it can also suffer the effects of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other forms of joint inflammation.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above on a regular basis, you will want to speak with your doctor or dentist. He/she can diagnose or rule out TMJ pain by considering your symptoms and performing a physical exam. In some cases, he/she may also perform and x-ray or MRI scan.
The first, and most obvious, thing your doctor will ask you to do is to reduce the amount of stress on the joints, either by finding ways to relax (and stop grinding or clenching your teeth) or to stop chewing gum and other tough foods. In many cases, some additional measures may be taken.
Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications (such as ibuprofen, motrin, etc.) may be recommended to alleviate some of the pain. For more severe pain, a prescription anti-inflammatory may be given.
For some sufferers, dental work or the use of a dental appliance may alleviate the pain associated with TMJ. Simply improving the bite or the use of a biteplate to cushion grinding teeth may make a marked improvement.
In extreme cases, surgery may be required to repair or remove the disk between the jaw and the temporal bone. More about facial and reconstructive surgery