What Is TMJ?

What is TMJ or temporomandibular joint dysfunction? Read on to find out if you suffer from this disorder.

Have you ever heard someone say they can't chew gum because they have TMJ? Or maybe your very own doctor has diagnosed you with TMJ. Well, first of all, what exactly IS TMJ? The initials, TMJ, stand for temporomandibular joint dysfunction (or disease).

Temporomandibular joint disfunction or disease is more common than people once realized. Of course as time went on, medical professional were better able to diagnose new disorders and diseases as newer methods and technology became available to them. TMJ is a disorder of the temporomandibular, or jaw joint. More people have this disorder than people realized. TMJ causes pain with the movement of the jaw and the surrounding muscles, ligaments and nerves. TMJ, as it is often called, occurs for one of a few reasons. First of all it can occur when the jaw joint itself, is worn down. Secondly TMJ can occur when the jaw joint becomes abnormal in shape due to injury. And last, but certainly not least, TMJ can occur in people who have arthritis and when the jaw joint has therefore, been affected by arthritis changes.

The muscles of the jaw may also become stiff and tender, especially in the morning and opening the mouth may be difficult. There is often swelling. Symptoms of TMJ include: pain in the jaw, sometimes spreading to the ear, stiffness and swelling in the jaw, and even headaches. Longterm effects of this disorder are damage to the jaw joints and surrounding muscles. One of the most common symptoms found associated with people who are diagnosed with TMJ is jaw joint popping or clicking. This is a sound made by the jaw itself, especially when someone is eating, (a person with TMJ should never chew gum). There may or may not be pain when this jaw joint popping occurs. When this happens, because the jaw does not move in the correct motion, muscles of the jaw do not move in the correct motion either. This, therefore causes the muscle to be more tense, which in turn, causes pain and swelling of the jaw and facial muscles, plus any or all of the other symptoms mentioned.



The jaw can also lock up. This means that if the person with TMJ opens their mouth too wide, it can actually lock open and the person has to actually, manually close it or open their mouths wider to "unhook" or unlock the jaw joint. TMJ is one of those things that keep their "victim" in a "secret hell", if you will, because it, like arthritis or some other painful disease or disorder, is there, causing you pain, yet others around you may not know a thing and think that you are perfectly normal and healthy because you look perfectly normal and healthy. That is why I think it is important to mention briefly here that TMJ can also be linked to depression in those who suffer with this disorder. Studies show that this is the case because of the fact that it is a debilitating and/or painful thing which is chronic, (meaning you have it all the time and/or forever). Studies on chronic pain patients have concluded that depression is a common factor in most all cases.

People most prone to TMJ have malocclusion of the teeth, which means their teeth don't meet when they bite down. Other factors that cause TMJ disease include grinding the teeth during sleep, having an overbite, chewing gum frequently and rheumatiod arthritis.

Treatment is preceded by diagnosis, which can be done by physical examination by the doctor but sometimes a special x-ray of the jaw is used to aid in the diagnosis. Blood test may confirm a doctors suspiscion of rheumatiod arthritis. Treatment includes anti-inflammatory medications for pain and swelling and heat and muscle relaxants may reduce pain, and tightness of the jaw muscles. If the problem is that the teeth are not aligned properly, you will be referred to an orthodontist to correct the problem. If grinding the teeth at night is the problem, your doctor can give you a special bite plate. Surgery is only done in extremely painful cases or when there is damage to the joints.

Stress appears to be a key factor in causing TMJ. Chewing gum, chewy candy and anything that has to be chewed alot, can aggrivate this condition tremendously. Such things should be avoided.

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