What is TMJ Disorder?
TMJ / TMD, or temporomandibular joint disorder, is a term used to describe a group of symptoms including headaches; facial pain; jaw pain; sore, chipped, broken, or worn teeth, clicking or popping in the jaw, and limited jaw movement.
TMJ stands for “temporomandibular joint,” or jaw joint. These are the small joints in front of each ear that attach the lower jaw to the skull, and happen to be the most complex joints in the entire body.
The area of the face where the TMJ is located is an intricate network of bones, including the teeth, muscles, and nerves. Because of this, TMJ (dysfunction) conditions affect many areas of the body, from the top of the head in migraine-like headaches to numbness or tingling in the arms and pain in the neck or shoulders.
In many cases people suffering from TMJ / TMD report chronic pain in the jaw, teeth, face, head, neck, shoulders, or back, or any combination of these areas. Snoring, grinding of teeth, frequent ear infections and restricted airway are other problems associated with TMJ / TMD. This group of symptoms is also referred to as MPD (myofascial pain dysfunction) and craniomandibular dysfunction.
What Causes TMJ?
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.
Who Suffers From TMJ?
The majority of people suffer to a greater or lesser degree from TMJ. Although women report more pain from TMJ, TMJ in men causes as much or more damage to the teeth, gums, bones and joints.
Children are especially sensitive to TMJ and usually show early signs with ear infections, leaning their head on an arm, lip, cheek, or finger biting, sucking or chewing, headaches, snoring, grinding of their teeth at night, and significant chewing of gum.
How Can TMJ Be Treated?
Neuromuscular dentists first measure the most relaxed position of your jaw to determine the goal for normal jaw positioning. Then the dentist works to realign the bite and restore the teeth and thus the jaw and joints to their optimal position. Once the bite is realigned and the jaw is in place, pain that resulted from the imbalance disappears.
Click here for more information on how neuromuscular dentists treat TMJ.