The fancy name for the TMJ is the temporomandibular joint. It is basically the hinge that connects your jawbone to your skull. When dentists speak of TMJ disorders, they are referring to pain in this joint and the muscles that control your jaw movement.
The TMJ is an interesting joint which involves a hinge action along with some sliding motions. The parts of the TMJ that interact are covered with cartilage. These parts are separated by a small disk which has two functions. This disk acts as a shock absorber and also keeps the movement of the joint smooth.
There are several symptoms that may indicate a TMJ disorder:
- If you are experiencing pain or tenderness in your jaw
- If you are experiencing aches or pain in your facial muscles
- If your TMJ seems to be locking so that it is difficult to open or close your mouth
- If you are experiencing difficulty or discomfort while chewing
- If you are experiencing aches or pain in or around your ear
- If you are experiencing a clicking sound when talking or chewing
- If you are experiencing pain or tenderness in your neck/shoulder area
- If you are experiencing swelling on the side of your face
These symptoms may be temporary or they may last for years. Because many of these symptoms may also indicate other problems than TMJ disorders, it is important to let your dentist examine you if any of these problems persist.
The causes of TMJ disorders are often difficult to pinpoint, but these causes can include the following:
- Rheumatoid arthritis in the TMJ
- An injury to the TMJ due to some type of impact
- Grinding/Clenching the teeth puts pressure on the TMJ
- Constant stress and its accompanying tension in the facial muscles puts pressure on the TMJ
- A misalignment of the shock-absorbing disk within the TMJ