What is it?
The TMJ or temporomandibular joint is the small joint located directly in front of the ear. This joint allows for movement of the lower jaw during opening and closing. TMJ disorders, dysfunction, and TMD are terms that describe a malfunction or problem related to this joint and its associated components, mainly its muscles and ligaments.
As you open and close during chewing, speaking, and swallowing this complex joint and its associated muscles are put in function, When all the elements are in harmony this joint operates smoothly and without pain. However, an abnormality in this system may result in difficulty in opening, clicking, popping or grating noises, and in many cases moderate to severe pain.
Patients who suffer with these symptoms are diagnosed as having a TMJ disorder.
Symptoms of TMJ Disorders
TMJ disorders encompass a wide variety of symptoms ranging from mild muscle discomfort to a potentially debilitating condition. These varied symptoms are all due to an abnormality of the jaw joint and its surrounding structures. In many cases trauma to the joint due to grinding and clenching of the teeth is the cause. Frequently clenching and grinding is increased during periods of emotional stress.
Trauma to the joint can also be the result of a blow to the chin during a motor vehicle accident or a sport related incident. Trauma regardless of its cause may result in displacement or tearing of the joint disc. This causes pain and an interference with normal jaw function. Patients who suffer from TMJ disorders exhibit a wide range of symptoms. The following symptoms and signs however are extremely common.
- Discomfort of the facial region generally above and in front of the ear
- Noise in the jaw joint on opening and closing that is described as a popping, clicking, or grating sound
- Frequent headaches and neck aches
- Locking of the jaw and or painful opening and closing
- Habits such as grinding or clenching of the teeth
- A history of direct trauma of the chin or jaw joint region
The presence of one or more of these symptoms does not confirm the diagnosis of a TMJ disorder. These symptoms are common in a wide variety of diseases. Proper clinical examination and appropriate testing are necessary to make a proper diagnosis.
Treatment of TMJ dysfunction varies depending of the diagnosis and degree of dysfunction. They may include jaw exercises, cold or hot pack applications, medications, electrical stimulation, biofeedback, and others. The use of a night guard or occlusal splint is in many cases extremely effective in reducing pain and restoring normal function. In most cases non-surgical modalities are quite effective. Patients are generally able to regain normal function with the absence of pain.
In those cases where non-surgical modalities are ineffective surgical intervention may be indicated. Surgery in our office is only considered in those cases where the diagnosis indicates a specific problem involving the joint. Surgical procedures are performed in much the same way as in other joints of the body. In some cases an arthroscope or miniature camera is used to view the joint while performing the surgical procedure. In cases where arthroscopic surgery would be ineffective in correcting the problem an open joint procedure or Arthroplasty is performed. This procedure involves surgical exposure of the joint and surgery under direct vision. In extreme joint deterioration joint replacement surgery may be necessary.
TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorders are a family of problems related to your complex jaw joint. If you have painful symptoms, you’ll be glad to know that these problems are more easily diagnosed and treated than they were in the past. Since some types of TMJ problems can lead to more serious conditions, early detection and treatment are important.
No one treatment can resolve TMJ disorders completely and treatment takes time to be effective. We can help you have a healthier and more comfortable jaw.
There are various treatment options that our doctors can utilize to improve the harmony and function of your jaw. Once an evaluation confirms a diagnosis of TMJ disorder, We will determine the proper course of treatment. It is important to note that treatment always works best with a team approach of self-care as well as professional care.