TMJ is the acronym for temporomandibular joint, which connects your lower jaw (the mandible) to your skull at the temporal bone. This joint controls many jaw functions, like chewing. If the chewing muscles or the joint itself are causing you pain you may have temporamandibular disorder, or TMD. TMD can be caused by stress, continual clenching of the jaw muscles, or teeth grinding.
Some of the symptoms of TMD are:
- Pain when opening or closing mouth
- Trouble chewing
- Jaw becoming stuck open or shut
- Headaches or ear pain
- Clicking or popping sounds when opening your mouth
- Teeth Grinding
Many of these symptoms can often be associated with other health problems, so only a medical professional can tell you if it is due to TMD. Teeth grinding is an especially problematic symptom because it can lead to further problems. Prolonged teeth grinding, or bruxism, can cause enamel to wear off teeth and expose dentin. This material is softer than enamel and more susceptible to decay. Sensitivity to hot and cold food or drink may also develop from excessive teeth grinding.
If you suspect you may have TMD come in for a consultation. We can help diagnose you and provide relief for your symptoms. Pain relievers and hot/cold compresses are short term methods to provide relief for pain symptoms. A night guard can be used to help prevent or lessen the effects of teeth grinding at night. This can lead to a more permanent solution. In very severe cases of TMD surgery may be required, but behavioral treatments to change the way you use your jaw muscles are usually enough to provide relief.
Here are some key symptoms linked to TMD:
Unusual sounds - Clicking, grinding or popping sounds when you open your mouth are common in people with TMD. The sounds may or may not be accompanied by pain.
Locking or limited movement - The jaw joint is similar to a ball-and-socket joint except that the socket itself is movable. The jaw joint sometimes may lock in an open or closed position. You may have difficulty opening your mouth either because the joint is locked or because of pain.
" Ear" pain - You may think you have an ear infection, but ear pain may be related to jaw joint inflammation or muscle tenderness. Pain from TMD is usually felt in front of or below the ear.
Headaches - People with TMD often report headaches. Your dentist can help to determine if your specific headache symptoms are a result of TMD. In some situations, you may need to consult a physician to help diagnose and treat certain headaches not related to TMD.
Morning stiffness or soreness - If your jaw muscles are stiff and sore when you wake up, it may by a sign that you are clenching or grinding your teeth in your sleep. Clenching or grinding teeth can exhaust jaw muscles and lead to pain.
Difficulty chewing - You may have difficulty chewing as a result of a change in your bite, the way your upper and lower teeth fit together. This shift in your bite may be related to TMD pain.
Teeth Grinding - Also known as "bruxism", grinding or clenching your teeth and the resulting excessive wear of the enamel can lead to a host of dental problems.
In many cases, teeth grinding occurs unintentionally during sleep. Teeth grinders, or bruxers, often also bite their fingernails, pencils and chew the inside of their cheeks.
About one in three people suffer from bruxism, which can easily be treated.
Teeth grinding over time can lead to hypersensitive teeth. Bruxers experience jaw pain, tense muscles and headaches, along with excessive wear on their teeth. Forceful biting when not eating may also cause the jaw to move out of proper balance.
Some of the signs of bruxism include:
Tips of the teeth look flat. Teeth are worn down so much that the enamel is rubbed off, exposing the inside of the tooth (dentin).
Pain in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ)- the jaw - which may manifest itself as a popping and clicking sound.
Tongue indentations. Anger, anxiety, pain and frustration can trigger teeth grinding.
Previous injuries and related conditions - A recent injury to the jaw joint or one from many years past can lead to TMD symptoms. Arthritis in the joint also may arise from injury. Arthritis already affecting other joints may affect the jaw joint and lead to TMD.
Others - Though the research is controversial, a feeling of fullness of the ears or ringing in the ears may sometimes be related to TMD. In these cases, consultation with an "ear, nose and throat" physician can help establish the final diagnosis.
If these symptoms sound familiar, talk to your dentist. Your dentist will test your ability to open and close your jaw, examine other jaw movements, and feel the jaw joint and muscles for pain or tenderness. The dentist will listen with a stethoscope in front of the ear for any clicking, popping or grinding sounds and will feel the jaw joint while you open and close it.
While it is advisable to discuss any TMD symptoms with your dentist, occasional discomfort in the jaw joint and chewing muscles is quite common and usually not a cause for concern. However, if you are diagnosed with TMD, the good news is that simple self-care practices are highly effective in relieving the discomfort. These include eating soft foods, applying heat or ice packs and avoiding extreme jaw movements. Effective, conservative treatments include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, physical therapy and oral appliances.