Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorders

About ten million Americans who suffer from such seemingly disparate symptoms as headaches, neck pain, earaches, tenderness of the jaw muscles, and/or dull, aching facial pain often share a common problem. They all suffer from what has come to be known as temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders. These disorders can have a variety of causes and are believed to result when the chewing muscles and jaw joints do not work together correctly. They are more common in young women. In many cases, TMJ disorders can be successfully treated.

HOW THE CHEWING MUSCLES AND JAW JOINTS WORK

The structures that make it possible to open and close the mouth are very specialized and work together when you chew, speak, and swallow. These structures include the muscles, ligaments, bones, and joints of the jaw.

Five pairs of muscles allow you to open and close your mouth. They also control forward, backward, and side-to-side movements of the lower jaw. Also involved in these movements are the temporomandibular joints. Each of these important joints has two sections, connected by a disk, that make possible the hinge and gliding actions needed to open the mouth widely (Fig. 1).

Any problem that prevents this complex system of muscles, ligaments, bones, and joints from working together properly may result in a TMJ disorder.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF TMJ DISORDERS

TMJ disorders have many signs and symptoms. Some of the most common include the following:

Your dentist can determine the cause of your symptoms by doing a complete medical history, a clinical examination, imaging studies, and/or casts of your teeth. Your dentist may refer you to a physician or to another dentist.

CAUSES OF TMJ DISORDERS

TMJ disorders often result when the chewing muscles and the temporo-mandibular joint do not work together correctly. When this occurs, the muscles often cramp. This spasm can then become part of a cycle that results in tissue damage, pain, and muscle tenderness.

Although trauma such as blows to the jaw or face, and diseases such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis may cause TMJ disorders, factors relating to the teeth and bite are common causes of TMJ disorders. Among these factors are the following:

TREATMENT FOR TMJ DISORDERS

Since the teeth, chewing muscles, and temporomandibular joints all can be involved in a TMJ disorder, treatments vary. Your dentist will decide what type of treatment is needed for your particular problem. Often, treatment will involve a series of phases. This step-by-step plan is in your best interest because only minor corrective treatment may be needed.

If pain and other symptoms persist, a more involved treatment, such as changing the way your teeth fit together, or even surgery, may be needed. However, surgery is recommended only when a precise cause of the disorder has been pinpointed and usually should not be undertaken until more conservative treatments of the disorder have been tried first.

Some common methods of treating TMJ disorders are listed below:

Your dentist and other health professionals who provide treatment for TMJ disorders care about your health and comfort. Follow the recommendations they give you and discuss with them any concerns you may have. Remember, in many cases the pain, headaches, and other symptoms associated with TMJ disorders can be successfully treated.

References

American Dental Association Web site, http://www.ada.org/, search for tmj, temporomandibular joint disorder
Emedicine Web site, www.emedicinehealth.com, search for tmj, temporomandibular joint disorder
Sheon, R. P. (2010, June 18). Temporomandibular joint dysfunction syndrome. Retrieved from http://www.uptodate.com/online/content/topic.do?topicKey=painrheu/5316&selectedTitle=1%7E150&source=search_result
“TM-Temporomandibular Disorders,” printed by American Dental Association, Bureau of Health Education and Audiovisual Services, Chicago, IL, 1985