Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorder

TMJ disorder, a dysfunction of the temporomandibular joint (which connects the lower jaw to the skull) can cause a wide variety of painful symptoms.

What is TMJ Syndrome? Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome, also called myofascial pain dysfunction, is a general term for a number of muscle, joint, and nerve symptoms that seem to be related to disturbance or disease in the temporomandibular joint. TMJ syndrome is a fairly common condition, perhaps because so many of the symptoms seem to be at least partly stress-related, and modern life is notably characterized by innumerable stressors.

What is the temporomandibular joint? The temporomandibular joint is the joint that connects the lower jaw (the mandible) to the skull.

What are the symptoms of TMJ syndrome? TMJ syndrome can produce a wide array of seemingly unrelated symptoms:



--jaw pain

--chronic generalized facial pain (either a sharp pain or a dull ache)

--headaches

--earaches

--a loud roaring in the ears

--clicking or popping sounds when the jaw is opened

--difficulty in opening and closing the jaw

--difficulty, discomfort, or pain when biting or chewing

--neck, shoulder, chest, and back pain

--toothache

--dizziness

How is TMJ syndrome diagnosed? TMJ syndrome is difficult to diagnose--not only because of its potentially large number of disparate symptoms, but also because any of those symptoms can be associated with other conditions. Before arriving at a diagnosis of TMJ syndrome, the doctor must first eliminate other conditions that could be producing the

symptoms. A professional diagnosis is necessary, and often the individual will have to see both a doctor and a dentist for an accurate diagnosis.

What causes TMJ syndrome? No one really knows the cause of TMJ syndrome. In fact, there seem to be a number of possible underlying causes. Some cases may have their origin in the way the jaw is structured, especially if there is malocclusion. Under conditions of chronic stress, even a slight malformation in the jaw can lead to TMJ symptoms. Some cases may be caused by sudden injury to the joint--for example, fractures or dislocations, such as might occur if the jaw is forced to open too widely while dental procedures are performed. And some cases seem to be the result of degenerative or inflammatory joint diseases, such as arthritis.

Professionals who treat TMJ syndrome also suspect that some cases are caused by poor mouth habits, such as chewing on hard objects, resting the jaw on the hands for prolonged periods, or clenching the jaw and grinding the teeth (bruxism). Certain musical instruments, like the violin and the trumpet, are also implicated in some cases because they can stress the jaw by forcing it into unnatural positions for extended periods of time.

In most cases, chronic stress leading to chronic habitual muscle tension and even to muscle spasms seems to be a significant contributor to TMJ syndrome.

How can TMJ syndrome be treated? Most doctors and dentists recommend treatment approaches that target the symptoms, rather than more drastic approaches such as surgery. Treatment programs for TMJ syndrome depend on the nature of the underlying causes of the condition, but most include some sort of counseling and training in stress-reduction and relaxation techniques, to eliminate stress-related factors that so often contribute to the dysfunction. Biofeedback, meditation, yoga, hypnosis, and breathing exercises are among the techniques that have shown positive results. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen are often recommended to relieve pain and to counteract inflammation of the temporomandibular joint.

Many people get relief from using hot compresses. For some, exercise programs can improve jaw alignment and functioning. Bite plates or other devices intended to realign the jaw are often used as well, but there is no consensus on their efficacy among those who treat

TMJ syndrome.

© High Speed Ventures 2011