You may have heard the acronym “TMJ”. But what does is stand for and what in the world does it mean?? TMJ stands for temporomandibular joints and they are actually the two joints that connect your jaw to your skull. More specifically, they are the joints that slide and rotate in front of each ear. They include the mandible (the lower jaw) and the temporal bone (the side and the base of the skull.) When the mandible and the joints are properly aligned, a smooth muscle action, such as chewing, can take place. When the joints are not lined up properly, the result may be a TMJ disorder.
SO WHAT ARE THE SIGNS?
TMJ disorders can cause a variety of signs and symptoms. This includes:
- Chronic pain in the jaw muscles
- A stiff jaw
- Jaw “locking”
- Painful clicking or popping when moving the jaw
- A change in how the upper and lower teeth fit together
DOESN’T SOUND LIKE FUN…WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME?
In many people, dental experts are not sure what causes TMJ disorders. While stress may play a role, many cases of jaw problems come about for no apparent reason. Pain for existing medical conditions may overlap with and cause increased risk of TMJ pain.
First, a definite TMJ diagnosis is needed. This can be obtained through a clinical examination, oral history of the problem, medical history, x-rays and study casts.
Treatment can vary depending on the risk factors, severity of the problem, condition of the bite and relationship of the jaws. Usually, it is necessary to refrain from chewy foods such as bagels and pizza for awhile. Of course, chewing gum is taboo. Sometimes the bite is adjusted (smoothed down.) Certain mouth exercises and relaxation techniques may play a part. Often moist heat is applied to the back of the mandible or on the face, or over the TMJ joint. Medication can be used to minimize pain. If it is determined that you are grinding your teeth while you sleep, an appliance called a night guard can be custom fabricated to cover your teeth at night to absorb the force of grinding. Most people get relief within a few days. If the problem has been longstanding, treatment will probably take more time. Just remember, it’s not a life or death matter – but it could mean some adjustments to your life style.
(reprinted in part from Delta Dental Oral Health Library)