Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders, commonly called “TMJ,” are a group of conditions that cause pain and dysfunction in the jaw joint and the muscles that control jaw movement.
There are a variety of TMJ symptoms, the severity and affects of which tend to differ from one sufferer to another. The jaw pain, discomfort and/or malfunction associated with TMJ symptoms typically lead sufferers to seek medical assistance, which can confirm a diagnosis of TMJ disorder and jumpstart the treatment process.
The American Dental Association (ADA) cites the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) as one of the most complex joints in the body. Involved in its function are several muscles, ligaments and bones. The joint itself is comprised of a disc between a ball and socket, and it is this disc that cushions the forces on the joint, enabling the jaw to move and function normally. Any conditions that prevent these components from working properly may cause a TMJ disorder (TMD).
Causes of TMJ Disorder
There are several TMJ disorders, any one of which can result from multiple causes.
According to the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), though trauma to the jaw or jaw joint – such as a jolting injury to the head, face or neck – sometimes plays a role in TMD, in most instances the cause is unknown.
The most common factor contributing to TMD is a bite problem affecting the joint itself. Interferences in the structure of individual teeth may force displacement of the lower jaw, leading the muscles to reposition the joints out of their sockets to force the upper and lower teeth to fit together. Also, wear and tear on the teeth caused by aging, teeth grinding and clenching, or activities outside of normal function – called parafunction – may cause uneven surfaces on the teeth, leading to interferences in the bite and improper jaw closure.
TMJ Pain and Other TMD Symptoms
The most common symptom of TMJ disorder is pain in the chewing muscles or jaw joint, the onset of which is typically the first step toward diagnosis. TMJ pain is usually described as a dull ache in the temporomandibular joint and surrounding areas, such as the ears, neck and shoulders. Some people may have no pain, but still experience jaw functionality difficulties.
Other symptoms of TMJ disorder include the following:
- Pain or soreness in the jaw that is more prevalent in the morning or late afternoon
- Clicking or popping when opening or closing the mouth
- Swelling on the side of the face
- Sensitive teeth in the absence of dental problems
- An earache in the absence of an infection
- Difficulty opening and closing the mouth and/or chewing
- Upper and lower teeth that do not align properly (malocclusion)
- Stiffness or “locked” feeling in the jaw when talking, yawning or eating
- Jaw pain when chewing, biting or yawning
- Recent changes to the bite
- Frequently waking up with headaches or experiencing frequent tension headaches
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