TMJ or temporomandibular joint disorder isn’t the most well-known oral condition yet is something that affects countless people at least once during their lifetime. It occurs when the function of the temporomandibular joint is compromised, making it difficult to do simple things that we take for granted such as eating and speaking.
What is the temporomandibular joint?
The TMJ is the name of the joint on either side of the face where the lower jaw connects to the skull. This joint is responsible for allowing our mouths to function. In addition to the up and down hinge-like movement that we are familiar with, the TMJ also acts as a sliding hinge, enabling the jaw to also move forward and backward. The combination of these movements is what allows us to eat, speak and yawn without interruption
The parts of the bones in our jaw and skull that interact in the joint are covered with cartilage and are separated by a small disc that acts as a shock absorber. These keep the movement of our jaw smooth and painless. However, if the disc becomes eroded or moves out of proper alignment or the joint is damaged by a blunt force trauma, TMJ disorder can occur.
Other risk factors for the development of TMJ disorder include:
A diagnosis of any form of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
Bruxism. This is a condition characterized by clenching and grinding of the teeth that place excess pressure on the temporomandibular joint.
Some connective tissue diseases that can affect the TMJ.
An uneven bite (how your teeth come together when you close your mouth)
Symptoms of TMJ disorder
There are a variety of different symptoms of TMJ disorder. While some seem fairly obvious, others may seem disassociated from the jaw but actually, stem from problems with the joint. Common indicators of TMJ disorder include:
Pain in and around your jaw, your ears, and temples
Persistent headaches around your temples
Clicking, popping and grinding sounds when you move your jaw
Stiffness in the mouth and jaw
Inability to open your mouth fully
Lockjaw (your jaw locking in place when you open your mouth wide, such as when yawning)
Pain that worsens when you eat or when you feel stressed
Poor quality sleep but with no obvious cause
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, you may be suffering from TMJ disorder and should make an appointment with our dental team so that your condition can be assessed, and the appropriate treatment recommended.
Treatment for TMJ disorder
It is not unheard of for TMJ disorder to resolve itself within a few days or weeks. However, a number of people suffer ongoing problems with their temporomandibular joint and require professional assistance to alleviate their pain and other symptoms.
Some of the ways in which TMJ disorder may be treated include the following:
Pain Relief and anti-inflammatory medications
These can be used to reduce any swelling in the joint as well as help you to manage discomfort associated with the condition.
These medications, which include the well-known antidepressant amitriptyline, can also be used to control pain and bruxism, and improve your quality of sleep.
Muscle relaxant medications
These can reduce muscle contracture and help to relieve pain that occurs as a result of muscle spasms.
A night guard
Although this will not stop you grinding your teeth if you have bruxism, it will help prevent further erosion of your teeth and could, therefore, protect your bite from becoming even more uneven.
It is possible to inject a corticosteroid into the joint which will help to counteract inflammation and reduce pain and stiffness.
Surgery to correct TMJ disorder
If non-surgical treatment options prove ineffective, our team may recommend that you consider invasive therapies. There are a number of different surgical procedures that could prove successful and we will work with you to decide which is most likely to be effective in your circumstances. These include:
Arthrocentesis, a procedure during which irrigation is used to flush out any debris and inflammatory by-products that may have accumulated inside the joint.
Arthroscopy, a form of minimally-invasive surgery that surgeons tend to prefer over open surgery since it carries fewer risks. An arthroscope, which is a thin tube with a camera at the end, is inserted into the joint through a tiny incision. Small instruments can be used through other, very small incisions, to complete the surgery.
If you would like more information on TMJ disorder, or if you believe that you may be suffering from the condition and would like to arrange to be assessed by our experienced and knowledgeable team, please contact our New York offices with your question or to schedule an appointment.