The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint that connects the upper and lower jaw. Temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD, is pain in the jaw joint that can be caused by a variety of medical problems.
Problems in this area can cause head and neck pain, facial pain, ear pain, headaches, a jaw that is locked in position or difficult to open, problems biting, and jaw clicking or popping sounds when you bite.
If you place your fingers just in front of your ears and open your mouth, you can feel the joint and its movement. When you open your mouth, the rounded ends of the lower jaw (condyles) glide along the joint socket of the temporal bone. The condyles slide back to their original position when you close your mouth. To keep this motion smooth, a soft disk of cartilage lies between the condyle and the temporal bone. This disk absorbs shock to the temporomandibular joint from chewing and other movements. Chewing creates a strong force. This disk distributes the forces of chewing throughout the joint space.
Many patients experience symptoms, but have never been diagnosed with TMD. Any of these symptoms can be from TMD:
- Headaches and migraines
- Ear congestion
- Tingling or numbness in fingers
TMD has a number of causes, including trauma, disease, and wear and tear due to aging or habits. When teeth are missing, or out of alignment, it causes the jaw to shift positions and the muscles to work harder to chew, swallow, bite, etc. and eventually will cause muscle spasms, tension and pain.
Teeth grinding or clenching can also result in muscle spasms and inflammation that cause the initial pain from TMD.
After a thorough clinical exam, including tracking jaw movements and imaging of the TMJ, our specialists will accurately diagnose TMJ function and demonstrate the severity level of the problem. Other methods of testing can be utilized if needed.
Simple or mild cases of TMD can be treated with anti-inflammatory medications and a hot/moist compress. More advanced or complicated cases require more significant intervention.
Frequent head or facial pain may be causing constant cranial muscle strain, which can be the result of an incorrect bite. Headaches from dental stress are a type of muscle tension headache. A tension headache may be on one or both sides of your head and feels like a dull, non-throbbing ache that can usually be relieved by aspirin.
Jaw clenching, either while awake or while sleeping, can set the stage for chronic headache or migraine pain.
In certain cases, we may recommend creating bite splints, which are acrylic devices worn on the upper teeth to reposition the jaw to the correct neuromuscular position. With correct position comes less tension and muscular pain.