What is the TMJ?
This is the temporomandibular joint. It’s commonly known as the TMJ. This is a sliding hinge joint that allows the skull to be connected to the jawbone. It moves your jaw three ways, up and down; forwards and backwards; and side to side. Often TMJ is used to describe TMJ disorder which is the malfunctioning of this joint and its associated structures. This is caused when there is a misalignment of the jaw, the neck, and the supporting structures.
How many people do we see with this?
About 1 in 8 of the population is affected by TMD. This number may be low due to undiagnosed cases. However, it is four times more common in women than in men. There are several causes of this. Some we can’t do much about, such as genetics or diseases such as arthritis. Some we can, like tension or grinding, stress, or reducing trauma to the joint or appropriate alignment of the head, neck, and jaw.
How do you know that you have it?
Most patients have 1 of 5 symptoms. This could be a headache. You can have an aching pain in and around your ear. Your joints block or pop. There could be pain or tenderness in the cheek and the jaw or you could have pain or difficulty in chewing. There are some signs however that can be overlooked such as dizziness, sharp facial pain, deep pain around the ear, facial swelling, and neck and upper back muscle spasm and pain.
So how can this be treated?
There can be physical exercises done or the patient could wear a bite splint commonly on the upper arch which goes over the top of the teeth in the horseshoe manner and prevents the heavy muscle from firing and causing the pain around the joint. Medication like Botox can be placed once every 4 to 6 months to reduce the activity of these heavy muscles. Medications can be given. The one that we want to avoid as much as we can and this is very rare, is surgery.
What would you do if you have symptoms?
You will get an evaluation from a TMJ professional such as a prosthodontist; you could eat softer foods, use both sides of your mouth to chew on, because we do tend to favour one side; stop chewing chewing gum; and stop biting our fingernails or teeth. Reduce stress triggers, these could be when we drive long distances or if we often have a job that makes us sit and focus at a desk for a long time writing. We have to try and stop clenching or grinding at this times, and refrain from opening wide or yawning.