Temporomandibular joint syndrome, commonly known as TMJ, is a disorder that happens in your jaw muscles and surrounding nerves. The temporomandibular joint is a joint that joins your mandible (lower jaw) to the skull.
You can find it in front of your ears on both sides of your head, and it is the joint that enables your jaw to close and open, allowing you to eat, speak, and yawn.
People also use the abbreviation TMJ in reference to other jaw-related health problems. However, jaw disorders are now commonly abbreviated as TMD or TMJD, which helps distinguish between the joint and the disorders.
Temporomandibular disorders happen because of problems associated with the fit between your lower and upper teeth, your jaw joints, and muscles in your face that control jaw movement and chewing.
The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research has the following classifications of temporomandibular jaw disorders:
Myofascial pain:This type of TMJD is the most common one. It causes pain or discomfort in the connective tissues covering your muscles (fascia) and the muscles that control the functions of your neck, jaw, and shoulders.
Degenerative joint disease: This happens when your temporomandibular joint degenerates over time, compromising its functionality. This mostly happens if you have rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis in the jaw.
Internal derangement of the temporomandibular joint: This disorder happens if you have a displaced disk (the cartilage cushion between your skull and the head of the TMJ) or a dislocated jaw.
Each type of TMJ disorder has its cause, and you can suffer from either one or multiple of these TMJ disorders.
Causes Of TMJ Disorders
In many cases of TMJ disorders, there is not a clear cause. However, some of the main causes include:
This is the most common cause of TMJ disorders. There are two types of traumas; microtrauma and macrotrauma.
Microtrauma: This happens inside the mouth, like clenching the jaw (jaw tightening) or grinding (bruxism).
Teeth grinding: This is a habit that happens mostly at night. It could cause muscle spasms plus an inflammatory reaction that could result in initial pain. Mostly, teeth grinding happens if you are stressed, have crooked or misaligned teeth, or overuse your chewing muscles.
Clenching: Unlike teeth grinding, people clench or tighten their teeth during the day. This happens if you constantly chew gum, your fingernails, or pens and pencils. The constant use of your TMJ exerts a lot of stress and pressure on the joint and surrounding muscles, which eventually causes pain and inflammation.
These habits cause prolonged hammering and stress to the temporomandibular joint and can cause a change in your teeth’ alignment. You might also clench your teeth due to stress.
Since you over-engage your muscles when clenching or grinding your teeth, it could result in inflammation and pain in the membranes surrounding your TMJ.
People who complain of having pains around their TMJ or the face around the muscles involved in chewing and yawning mostly grind or clench their teeth.
Macrotrauma, on the other hand, happens from external sources such as a punch to the face or an injury. That could cause your TMJ to dislocate, or it might break your jaw.
It could also cause damages to your joint’s cartilage disk and some surrounding muscles, which not only causes pain and inflammation but also compromises the functionality of your TMJ.
Another cause of macrotrauma is when the dentist opens your mouth wide for long periods during a dental procedure. That causes extended amounts of pressure to your temporomandibular joints, surrounding muscles, and its cartilage disk.
Some diseases cause pain and inflammation to your joints, and others that make the jawbones degrade over time. Some of the most common diseases that cause TMJ disorders include:
Osteoarthritis is a disease that affects joints in the body, and the temporomandibular joint is one of the affected joints. It causes the joint to slowly but progressively degenerate and also results in progressive loss of cartilage from the jaw.
In addition, it also causes there to be new bone formation at the joint’s surface. That causes there to be pain and inflammation anytime you move the joint.
This is another type of arthritis that causes inflammation in the TMJ and is an autoimmune disease. As the inflammation progresses, it results in bone erosion, destruction of cartilage at the joint, and finally leads to joint deformity.
Another reason that could cause degeneration of the bone and cartilage at the TMJ is the wear and tear of the joint as you grow older.
Structural jaw problems that are present from birth
Sometimes, children are born with some issues that affect the structure of the bones and muscles in the temporomandibular joint. That makes it hard for the joint to function as it should, resulting in pain and inflammation whenever they move their jaws to talk, eat or yawn.
Infection at the joint
Due to certain reasons, your TMJ may get an infection. If not treated, the infection could spread to the muscles around the joints, causing pain and inflammation. It could also affect the bone such that it causes it to degenerate, affecting its proper function.
Dislocation of the disk or soft cushion found between the ball and socket of the joint
Every joint has a ball and socket that make it possible for it to move. There is also a disk between the two bones, which acts like a cushion that makes the movement of the joint smooth.
If that disk between the ball and socket of your TMJ moves, there will be friction anytime you open your mouth. That friction could cause pain and inflammation that will spread to the nearby muscles.
While temporomandibular disorders could happen to anyone, some factors could increase your chances of getting them, including:
- Poor posture that exerts a lot of stress and strain to your neck, face, and shoulder muscles
- Extended use of orthodontic braces
- Stress and anxiety
- Age. Research indicates that people between the ages of 18 and 44 have the greatest risk of getting TMJD.
- Pain tolerance. Sensitivity to mild pain stimuli increases your chances of getting TMJD
- Genetics. Some genes that have a relation to psychological health, stress response, and inflammation increase your chances of getting TMJD
- If you suffer from chronic pain issues like headaches and lower back pain, you are at a higher risk of getting TMJD than those who don’t experience those pains
- Gender. Women have higher chances of getting TMJD than men, and there is also a difference in how women react to pain and respond to pain medication
- Poorly positioned teeth
How Doctors Diagnose TMJ Disorders
Doctors do not have a specific test to determine if you have TMJ disorders. They examine you by conducting a physical exam and looking at your medical history.
They may also refer you to specialists who deal with the nose, throat, and ears to determine if the pain you feel could be from other conditions. They also examine the jaw to determine if there is any tenderness or swelling if you exhibit any TMJ symptoms.
In the physical exams, some of the things your doctor will do include:
- Taking X-rays of your jaw
- CT scans for images of the joint tissues and bones
- Taking an MRI of your jaw to determine if there are issues with your jaw’s structure
Symptoms Of TMJD
The symptoms you experience will determine the cause and the extent of your TMJD. One of the main symptoms is pain and inflammation in your jaw and the muscles surrounding it. Other symptoms you might experience include:
- Pain in your neck and face
- Limited jaw movement, which causes trouble chewing
- Stiffness in your jaw muscles
- Popping and clicking sounds from your jaw anytime you open and close your mouth
- Changes in the alignment of your lower and upper teeth when you close your mouth, commonly called malocclusion
- Pain in the surrounding teeth that feels like toothaches
- Popping or ringing sounds in your ears, or feeling like your ears are full
- Blurred vision
- Headaches that do not get better with medication
- Muscle spasms in your jaw
- Pain in your shoulders
- Swelling, pain, or formation of a lump in your temples
You can experience these symptoms in either one or both sides of your head.
- A cold compress on the affected jaw
- Over-the-counter or prescription pain and anti-inflammatory medications
- Massaging the jaw and neck muscles where you can use sedative essential oils
- Reducing jaw movement, for example, by not chewing gum
- Relaxation techniques to help lower your stress levels
- Eating soft foods
- Botox to help reduce the tension in the nerves and muscles surrounding your TMJ
If you are having TMJD because of issues related to your teeth, like misaligned and crooked teeth, Imagine Dental is the best place to have those issues corrected.
They have the best dentists who will give you the best medical attention to ensure you don’t have to deal with the pains anymore. Aside from treating you, they also advise you on some of the best practices to avoid future issues with your TMJ.