The temporomandibular joint is not only a mouthful to say, but it’s also the most constantly used joint in the body. (You would also need it to be able to say it.)
The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ for short, connects the jawbone to the skull. It is located in front of the ear, where the skull and the lower jaw meet, and it allows your lower jaw to move and function. With its constant use, it is due to have some wear and tear at some point in time.
TMJ disorders (TMJD) can cause pain in the jaw joint and in the muscles that control jaw movement. Instances can be traced “to a particular systemic condition or an injury to the joint, such as arthritis, face trauma, a big yawn, or constant grinding/clenching of your teeth,” said Alexandra Radu, DMD, MD, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon with Trinity Health. “However, in a large portion of patients experiencing TMJ disorders, there is not a single attributable cause for the disorder. Because of its constant use, the TMJ can become simply overused and develop symptoms, either temporarily or long term.”
Diagnosing these disorders is a complex process and can involve multiple modalities, Dr. Radu said.
TMJ disorders affect approximately 10 percent of all Americans, Dr. Radu said, noting that studies have shown that women are more affected than men. “In fact, women are three times more likely to seek care for their TMJD,” she added. “Individuals between the ages of 20 and 40 are more likely to develop symptoms. Finally, there is a strong association between TMJD and stress, and people who undergo a lot of stress in their daily lives are more likely to become symptomatic.”
Symptoms can vary greatly among individuals and someone with TMJ disorders can experience some or all of the symptoms, which can be short lived or present for many years, Dr. Radu said.
These symptoms can include:
- Difficulty opening and closing the mouth
- Jaw and cheekbone pain
- Pain or a tired jaw when eating
- Earaches or ringing in the ears
- Popping or clicking sounds when opening and closing the mouth
- Changes in bite
- Pain behind the eye
- Problems moving the jaw side to side or forward
- Pain when touching the TMJ areas or jaw muscles
- Muscle soreness in the neck/shoulder regions
“For someone who experiences these symptoms for the first time, conservative treatment with jaw rest, heat compresses, and over-the-counter anti-inflammatories is appropriate,” Dr. Radu said. “If symptoms are recurring or do not respond to conservative treatment, the patients should contact their dentist, primary care physicians, or oral surgeon.”
She added that “the vast majority” of individuals with TMJ disorders “benefit greatly from conservative treatments”—which generally involves “a combination of prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxers, bite plate or splint therapy, physical therapy, Botox injections, and stress management counseling” – “and do not progress into becoming surgical candidates.” In fact, surgical therapies are only recommended “in a handful of cases and your oral surgeon can assess if you would benefit from any of those procedures.”
Trinity Health’s Oral and Facial Surgery is located at Health Center – Plaza 16, 2815 16th St. SW, Minot. For more information, call 701-857-2600.