What is a TMJ Disorder?

What is a TMJ Disorder?

The Complete TMJ Disorder Resource For Sufferers

jaw-closeupThe TMJ is an acronym used to describe the temporomandibular joint and the muscles and facial nerves that surround it.  Often times the term is used to reference the dysfunction of that joint and a resulting TMJ disorder.  The correct term for that is a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD or TMD).

The TMJ works as a hinge connecting the jaw with the skull’s temporal, which are located in front of each ear.  It is the joint that allows you to move your jaw up and down and side to side so that you can speak, chew, yawn and make facial expressions.

Scientists have discovered a variety of causes for TMJ disorders, including injury to the head and neck, arthritis, teeth grinding or bruxism, stress and movement of the disc between the ball and socket of the joint itself.

Many people with TMJ also experience other conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, headache, low back pain, endometriosis, sleep disorders, fibromyalgia, interstitial cystitis and irritable bowel syndrome. To learn more about TMJ symptoms click here for our exhaustive resource.


What are the Causes of TMJ Disorders?

In most cases, TMJ disorders stem from a condition called malocclusion, which means having a “bad bite” or accidents and trauma. Malocclusion means that your upper and lower teeth do not close together in the correct way—they are misaligned. This includes underbites and overbites.

When the teeth are misaligned, they cannot provide the support the muscles in the face need for chewing and swallowing. These muscles are then forced into a strained position, resulting in pain throughout the face, head, arms, shoulders, and back. Although a person may have beautiful teeth or had orthodontics to line the teeth up for aesthetic reasons, the muscles and joints may not be comfortable.

More than 10 million Americans experience TMJ disorder, and women in their childbearing years account for nearly 90 percent of all TMJ patients.


Who May Suffer From TMJ Disorder?

Although doctors are not sure why women experience TMJ more than men, they believe there is a link between the hormone estrogen and joint pain. Research has shown that shown that women who take oral contraceptives or have had hormone replacement therapy are more likely to report jaw pain than other people are.

Here are some other reasons why women may be more likely to have TMJ:

  • Arthritis, which is more common in women, is also one of the causes of TMJ.
  • Teeth grinding or clenching (Bruxism), which is more common in women, is associated with TMJ disorders.
  • Vitamin deficiencies – especially a lack of magnesium – are common in women of childbearing years, and they may be an underlying factor in TMJ.
  • Women’s collagen appears to be different from men’s collagen, and women have more duplicated disks than men have.

Other factors that may contribute to TMJ in both men and women include bad oral habits, poor posture such as forward head position, malocclusion, a bad bite, musculoskeletal issues or internal disc and joint problems.


What are Common TMJ Symptoms?

Pain in the jaw joint is the most common symptom. Other symptoms include:

Follow this link for more information on TMJ symptoms


Common Treatments for TMJ Disorder

Many people are able to manage their TMJ discomfort with home self-care. These remedies include massage, eating soft foods, applying moist heat or cold compresses to the affected area, stretching the jaw, practicing relaxation techniques and avoiding gum chewing and wide yawning.  Learn more about home remedies, TMJ exercises, soft diets and avoiding bad habits as the first steps in preventative and self care for improvement of minor symptoms.

If these options do not help and the symptoms persist, you will want to engage with a medical professional with a special focus in TMJ treatment such as a neuromuscular dentist.  They may try other non-invasive treatments first and will follow a process of TMJ diagnosis that will help determine the cause and best treatment for your TMJ disorder. Here are a few of the most common conservative regimens.


Non-Invasive Treatments

Depending on the nature and cause of TMJ disorder symptoms, a neuromuscular dentist may recommend a specific treatment.  The most common treatments are below, Visit our TMJ treatment resource for complete treatment info.

Mouth guard or Orthotic Splint — Your dentist may recommend that you wear a bite or mouth guard (also called an orthotic).  This plastic guard is custom designed to fit over your upper or lower teeth to help prevent clenching, grinding and/or nail biting.  A mouth guard also can help adjust the jaw to its natural resting position.

Bite Adjustment – A second step after a mouth guard may be for your dentist to reshape the biting surfaces of your teeth, eliminating any excessive pressure when you close your jaw.

TENS Therapy — TENS, which stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, is a non-invasive therapy that helps your jaw and facial muscles to settle into a natural and comfortable resting position.

Chiropractic care – Used alone or with other treatments, chiropractic care help correct misalignments between the spine and central nervous system.  It can relax the facial muscles and use specific trigger points to reposition the jaw.

Massage — Massage therapy exercises are used to gently stretch and strengthen the jaw muscles in order to relieve tension and pain.

Additionally, some alternative medicine techniques to treat TMJ are acupuncture, breathing techniques and biofeedback.

Your first option should always be to try non-invasive treatments. However, if chronic pain persists, your dentist may suggest some minimally invasive options such as implants or crowns, or even surgery.


Surgical Treatments

Here are a few surgical procedures your doctor might recommend as a last resort. You can also visit our page on surgery facts for complete information on TMJ jaw surgery:

Arthrocentesis — a procedure that involves inserting small needles into the TMJ to irrigate the joint and to remove inflammatory debris

Injections — Corticosteroid injections into the TMJ designed to help ease pain

Arthroscopy – First, the doctor inserts a small thin tube called a cannula into the joint space.  Then an arthroscope is inserted, and your doctor uses small surgical instruments to perform surgery.

Modified Condylotomy — Working through the mouth, your doctor creates a vertical cut in the mandible behind the molar teeth in order to decrease tension and pain in the jaw.

Open-joint surgery – This procedure, known as arthrotomy, is designed to repair or even replace the TMJ.

Pain medications including both prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines, may offer temporary pain relief. However, medications can mask symptoms, making TMJ more difficult to treat.  Some pain killers also may cause other problems or become addictive. Therefore, medications are not a long-term solution to chronic TMJ pain and should be taken only under a doctors supervision.



Whom Should You See for TMJ Treatment?

If you are experiencing the symptoms of TMJ disorder, see your regular healthcare provider to rule out any other conditions.  Facial pain, for example, can be caused by a sinus or ear infection, by tooth decay or abscess, by a nerve problem or even by tumors.

If your doctor rules out other underlying conditions, then it is time to see a dentist who specializes in TMJ treatment.  Look for someone who understands musculoskeletal disorders and who has experience successfully treating these painful conditions.  All of the dentists listed at Leading Dentist have completed the Core VII curriculum at LVI Global and are highly trained in diagnosing and treating TMJ disorders.  You should be able to find one near you with a simple search.

Schedule a consultation visit and be ready to ask questions about various treatment options and the doctor’s experience with them.



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