Many people give very little thought to the way in which they use their jaw. Nevertheless, we rely on its smooth movement for many reasons including helping us to speak, eat, laugh, sneeze and even kiss. It is estimated that around 10 million Americans will experience some problems with how their jaw functions at some point during their lifetime – something which is referred to as a TMJ disorder.
The acronym TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint. This is the joint that is located on either side of our face just below our ear and connects our jaw to our skull. Many people think that the jaw works simply as a hinge, enabling us to open and close our mouths. However, the truth is that the movement is more complicated than that. In addition to the hinge-like action it performs, the TMJ also enables the lower jaw to slide back and forth. If you place a couple of fingers on your chin when you speak you will notice this movement.
A TMJ disorder is a name given to problems that are experienced with the movement of the jaw as a result of issues with the temporomandibular joint.
A TMJ disorder and be both painful and incapacitating. There is a range of different symptoms that is it possible to experience including the following:
Stiffness when you try and open your mouth
Difficulty or finding it impossible to open your mouth fully
Clicking, grinding and popping noises and sensation when you move your jaw
Your jaw locking when you open your mouth particularly wide, such as when yawning
Pain in your jaw, ear, and temples
Persistent headaches that seem to create a band of pain around your temples
Difficulty sleeping due to TMJ symptoms listed above
The symptoms of TMJ disorders can be fairly fluid. This means that they can fluctuate in their severity, with many people finding that the signs of the condition get worse when they are stressed or unwell.
It is not always known exactly why one patient might experience a TMJ disorder and another doesn’t. However, there are specific conditions and events that could make a patient more likely to suffer from this painful and debilitating problem. These include the following:
Injury to the jaw, particularly a blunt force trauma
Suffering from arthritis, a condition characterized by inflammation and stiffness of the joints
Suffering from bruxism, a condition whereby the patient clenches or grinds their jaw, often subconsciously or while they are asleep
Uneven wear to the teeth caused by problems with the way that the patient’s teeth come together (their bite)
Connective tissue diseases affecting the jaw
Studies have also found that TMJ disorders are more commonly diagnosed in women than in men.
Fortunately, there are a number of different therapies and treatments that can be used to combat the effects of TMJ disorders. When you visit your dentist, you may first be recommended to try some non-invasive treatment options to alleviate your symptoms. These could include:
Using pain medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories to help manage your discomfort and reduce swelling
Heat or ice packs to reduce inflammation and discomfort
Switching to a diet of primarily soft foods to help prevent flare-ups of TMJ symptoms
However, if these do not bring about sufficient relief from your symptoms, you may be referred to an oral specialist like ourselves to discuss what further treatment options are available. Exactly what will be recommended may depend on the cause of your TMJ disorder. For example, if you suffer from Bruxism, we may try giving you a mouthguard or providing you with splints to help prevent you from grinding your teeth at night.
In some cases, the only option to ensure that you are relieved from the pain and effects of TMJ disorder is to perform surgery on the joints. This is done arthroscopically wherever possible, which means that it is minimally invasive, and you will make a faster and simpler recovery. However, if open joint surgery is needed to facilitate the repair or replacement of the discs which enable the joint to function, you can expect to take several weeks off of work to recover.
If you are suffering from what you believe to be TMJ disorders and you would like the advice and support of an expert team, please don’t hesitate to contact our friendly and reassuring staff at our office in Manhattan, NY.