What is TMJ?
TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint, but these initials also refer to a painful disorder related to this joint. The American Dental Association (ADA) online article “TMJ” explains that the TMJ joint works together with muscles, ligaments and the jaw bone which all enable you to open and close your mouth and control the lower jaw as it moves forward, backward and side-to-side. This is what also allows you to chew, speak and swallow.
The article adds that the TMJ joint has a disc between the ball and socket. This disc provides cushion, enabling the jaw to open widely and rotate or glide. Any problem that interferes with the proper working of this complex system of muscles, ligaments, discs and bones can result in a painful TMJ disorder. In fact, the ADA online article, “Concerns,” explains that the TMJ joint is among the more complex joints in your body.
The ADA article, “Concerns,” lists several possible symptoms of TMJ:
- pain in or around the ear
- tenderness of the jaw
- clicking or popping noises when opening the mouth
The ADA article, “Concerns,” says that the exact cause of a TMJ disorder is often unclear, but possible causes can include arthritis, dislocation, injury and/or problems related to alignment or teeth grinding from stress. Another ADA online article, “Teeth Grinding” lists TMJ as one of the dental disorders that increased in 2020 due to an increase in general of dental disorders associated with stress (along with teeth grinding and clenching and chipped and cracked teeth).
The first step of treatment for TMJ is proper diagnosis. A dental exam for TMJ includes checking the joints and muscles for tenderness, clicking, popping or difficulty moving, says the ADA article, “TMJ.” The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, as cited in the “TMJ” article, advises a “less is often best” approach to treating TMJ. More simple approaches could involve the following:
- avoid chewing gum and biting your nails
- eat softer foods
- modify the pain with heat packs
- practice relaxation techniques to control jaw tension, such as meditation or biofeedback
More involved treatments could include the following:
- take medications prescribed by your dentist or doctor (i.e., muscle relaxants, analgesics, anti-anxiety drugs or anti-inflammatory medications)
- exercise to strengthen your jaw muscles
- wear a night guard or bite plate to decrease clenching or grinding of teeth
- fix an uneven bit by adjusting or reshaping the teeth
TMJ can clearly be a painful and difficult dental disorder. Yet, there is no reason to remain in the dark about it and to suffer needlessly. There are definite treatment options for TMJ, and the best place to start is an evaluation by your dentist. We at Boulevard Dental are prepared to evaluate you for TMJ and to advise you on the best treatment options for you!
American Dental Association. Concerns. Mouth Healthy. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/adults-under-40/concerns. Accessed April 11, 2022.
American Dental Association. Teeth Grinding. Mouth Healthy. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/t/teeth-grinding. Accessed April 11, 2022.
American Dental Association. TMJ. Mouth Healthy. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/t/tmj. Accessed April 11, 2022.