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Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ)

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The temporomandibular (tem-puh-roe-man-DIB-u-lur) joint, also known as TMJ, are the joints on either side of your jaw, in front of your ears, that connect your lower jaw to your skull. It helps your jaw move and function and is one of your body’s most complex yet most often used joints. When you talk, yawn, chew, or swallow you are using your TMJ. When you have temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD, it is the result of problems you may be having with either your jaw, your jaws joint, or the facial muscles used for movement of your jaw. 

Causes of TMJ Disorder

It’s difficult to pinpoint the causes of TMJ disorder. It can be the result of many different conditions or even a combination of them. Some of the causes include:

  • Genetic predisposition to TMJ
  • Arthritis
  • Injury to the jaw
  • Bruxism – teeth grinding or clenching
  • Overuse of the jaw joint 
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Misalignment of the teeth
  • Stress

Symptoms of TMJ Disorder

TMJ disorder can cause pain and discomfort that can either be constant or intermittent. Usually it can be managed with nonsurgical treatments. Surgery is an option for treatment when all other conservative methods do not work. Symptoms of TMJ disorder may include:

  • Pain that is localized to the face, jaw, neck and shoulders
  • Pain in either in the ear or around the ear
  • A limited ability to widely open the mouth
  • Difficulty chewing
  • A bite that has become uncomfortable
  • Swelling on the sides of the face
  • A clicking or popping noise when opening the mouth
  • A headache or neck ache

Diagnosis of TMJ Disorder

After taking a detailed medical history and a physical examination your doctor may suggest imaging studies, including an X-ray. Some of the following tests may be conducted in order to diagnose TMJ disorder:

  • Clench test
  • X-rays
  • CT scan or MRI scan
  • Computer bite analysis
  • Joint-vibration analysis
  • TMJ arthroscopy

Treatment of TMJ Disorder

Depending on the severity of your condition, your doctor will determine treatment bases on your age, your overall health and medical history, how compliant you are with treatment and how long your symptoms are expected to last. Some of the treatment options include:

  • Stress-reduction management exercises
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Low-level-laser therapy
  • Customized bite plates to prevent teeth-grinding
  • A soft foods diet
  • Application of either heat or ice packs
  • Avoiding extreme movements of the jaw like wide yawning and gum chewing
  • Surgical intervention

In most cases, the pain and discomfort associated with TMJ disorders is temporary and can be relieved with a more conservative approach of self-managed care or nonsurgical treatments. Surgery is typically a last resort after conservative measures have failed.


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