The TMJ or temporomandibular joint is the connection at both sides of the face, holding the lower jaw (the mandible) to the temporal bones of the skull, located in front of each ear. When jaw pain is experienced, a dentist will assess patients for a condition known as TMD or temporomandibular joint disorder. Despite the label as a “disorder” the condition is extremely variable and may resolve itself in some patients naturally or with targeted facial exercises.
TMD is seen most often in patients between 20 and 40 years of age, and it is common in orthodontic patients especially if elastics are used during treatment. Some of the most frequent suspected causes of TMD or other problems with TMJ include bruxism, which is grinding the teeth, or clenching the teeth. These behaviors put excess stress on the joints and on the muscles that control the lower jaw. In some cases, the muscles may actually be the problem, and the TMJ may be fine.
If the jaw becomes dislocated, this can lead to some discomfort and may set the stage for future TMJ issues. Likewise, patients with arthritis developing in the TMJs will also often experience some TMJ symptoms. The symptoms may involve one TMJ or both. Dentists can recommend stretching and facial exercises to help with the jaw discomfort and improve symptoms over time. Depending on the severity of the symptoms experienced, some patients may also be referred to specialists for further assessment.
Symptoms to report to a dentist include swelling, discomfort, and anything unusual. With some TMJ patients, lockjaw is an occasional problem where it feels as if the jaw joints have locked in place with the mouth “stuck” in an open, partially open, or closed position. This usually resolves in a few moments but can be uncomfortable. Grinding, clicking, or popping sounds can sometimes be heard by the patient due to the location of the TMJs near the ears.
Tenderness, fatigue, swelling, and other physical symptoms should be presented to a dentist for assessment. Frequent earaches, migraines, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), toothaches near the TMJs, and any issues with the facial muscles may be less noticeable symptoms associated with TMJ problems. Contact the caring, highly trained dentistry team of Dr. Dan Bush today and learn more about TMJ, TMD, and what can be done for improved function, comfort, and quality of life!