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Temporomandibular Joint Disease (TMJ)

What is the TMJ?

TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint. Temporal, as in temple area of skull; mandibular as in mandible, or lower jaw; joint as in it’s where the head and jaw meet. It is one of the strongest, most flexible and used joint and muscle systems in your body. It is this joint that enables you to talk, eat and move your jaw from side to side. Aside from the two bones that meet there, cartilage buffers them and five muscles are involved in the area.

What can TMJ problems cause?

Problems in this joint may be caused by a misalignment of the teeth, trauma, or excess muscle tension. A disorder called Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD) is extremely common and if left untreated can result in some serious discomfort in your mouth and throughout your body. Problems in this area can cause jaw pain and/or stiffness, headaches, vague tooth soreness or toothache, sensitive teeth, painful or tender jaw joint, difficulty opening jaw, pain and fatigue when eating hard or chewy foods, clicking/popping/grinding sound in your jaw joint, ear pain, grinding or clenching while sleeping or awake, breaking or cracking of teeth, and/or history of medically diagnosed migraine headaches.

How do you diagnose TMJ problems?

TMJ problems are often diagnosed after a thorough history and physical examination, as well as radiographic imaging of the joints themselves. Often further imaging such as MRI is warranted to examine the cartilaginous disc and joint space itself.

What treatment options exist?

TMJ treatment may range from conservative dental and medical care to complex surgery. Depending on the diagnosis, treatment may include short-term non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pain and muscle relaxation, bite plate or splint therapy, and even stress management counseling. Generally, if non-surgical treatment is unsuccessful or if there is clear joint damage, surgery may be indicated. Surgery can involve either arthroscopy (the method identical to the orthopedic procedures used to inspect and treat larger joints such as the knee) or repair of damaged tissue by a direct surgical approach. Once TMJ disorders are correctly diagnosed, appropriate treatment can be provided.

What should I expect after being diagnosed?

Patients who undergo treatment for TMD experience many benefits from decreased or eliminated pain and discomfort to better overall health, longer-lasting dental restorations and more restful sleep.