TMJ, or Temporomandibular Joint and Muscle Disorder, is a condition which is not well understood in cause. The condition involves pain around the jaw joints and difficulty in moving the jaw due to inflammation. Pain and stiffness in the jaw naturally affects eating, talking and swallowing. Therefore, TMJ is a serious medical condition that impacts one’s health and well-being.
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What are the causes and symptoms of TMJ?
Because the jaw has joints, it is susceptible to joint-related conditions such as arthritis and ankylosis. The jaw may also be affected by injury, or other problems including teeth-grinding. Sometimes symptoms of TMJ appear due to an incorrect bite. Other factors such as severe stress, tension, or nail-biting give rise to the symptoms. TMJ is often part of other systemic conditions, including fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Dental treatments do not cause TMJ.
Common symptoms include noticeable pain when a person is moving his or her jaw, such as when eating, chewing, or yawning. T he pain will more frequently be on one side of the jaw, but sometimes will be on both sides. The pain can be gradual or sharp and sudden. A sufferer may also feel soreness or tenderness to the face, which may radiate to other areas including the ears, head, neck and even the shoulders. The strain and discomfort often leads to severe headaches, particularly in children. People of any age and gender may suffer from TMJ.
A very common symptom among TMJ sufferers is a painful “clicking” or “popping” sensation when the jaw is opened. This is differentiated from minor clicking-type noises, which are not accompanied by pain, and therefore, usually do not need to be treated. The jaw may also lock in an open or closed position, or the jaw may be unable to open wide, due to disc displacement. The jaw lock may be followed by a muscle spasm.
Diagnosis and Treatment of TMJ
TMJ is usually determined by exams, such as x-ray, MRI and CT scan. If the condition is not serious, a physician will usually recommend several steps:
• Resting the jaw joint
• Utilizing conventional analgesic pain killers or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to alleviate the swelling and tight muscles
• Applying heated compresses to the areas
• Avoiding strain of the jaw
• Avoiding tough foods that require heavy chewing
If the surfaces of the teeth or the supporting structures have been damaged because of dental neglect, disease, or trauma, a dental professional will need to be consulted to restore the proper occlusion (the surface of a tooth that “occludes” with or has contact with an opposing surface of a tooth in the opposing jaw).
A night guard might be given to the TMJ patient to stabilize the jaw during sleep. These night guards, or splints, are clear plastic devices that would be used temporarily to reduce teeth grinding and jaw at night (a condition called bruxism). The splints would help in keeping the jaw’s condition from worsening, relieving pain, and helping a displaced disc to return to normal.
When monitoring a patient for treatment for TJM, the doctor will most likely recommend that the patient temporarily avoids any new dental work that involves prolonged attention to the teeth—such as crowns and bridges, or treatment that affect the jaw. A person who thinks he or she is suffering from TMJ should consult a medical or dental professional immediately. An orthodontic evaluation can determine if you have TMJ, the most likely cause, and how it can be remedied. With the right diagnosis and treatment, most people can have relief from the symptoms of TMJ disorder.