The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a small joint located in front of the ear where the skull and lower jaw meet. It permits the lower jaw (mandible) to move and function.
Did You Know…
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, more than 10 million people are affected by TMJ disorders and these disorders are more common in women than men.
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TMJ disorders are not uncommon and have a variety of symptoms. Patients may complain of earaches, headaches and limited ability to open their mouth. They may also complain of clicking or grating sounds in the joint and feel pain when opening and closing their mouth. What must be determined, of course, is the cause.
What Causes TMJ Disorders?
Determining the cause of a TMJ problem is important, because it is the cause that guides the treatment.
Arthritis is one cause of TMJ symptoms. It can result from an injury or from grinding the teeth at night. Another common cause involves displacement or dislocation of the disk that is located between the jawbone and the socket. A displaced disk may produce clicking or popping sounds, limit jaw movement and cause pain when opening and closing the mouth. The disk can also develop a hole or perforation, which can produce a grating sound with joint movement.
Affected patients frequently clench or grind their teeth at night causing painful spasms in the muscles and difficulty in moving the jaw. Patients may also experience a combination of muscle and joint problems. That is why diagnosing TMJ disorders can be complex and may require different diagnostic procedures.
Range of Possible Treatment
TMJ treatment may range from conservative dental and medical care to complex surgery. Depending on the diagnosis, treatment may include short-term medications for pain and muscle relaxation, bite plate or splint therapy.
Generally, if non-surgical treatment is unsuccessful or if there is clear joint damage, surgery may be indicated. Surgery can involve either arthroscopy or in severe cases repair of damaged tissue by a direct surgical approach.