TMJ disorder is actually a group of disorders affecting the jaw. TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint and refers to the joint that connects your lower jaw to the part of your skull called the temporal bone. This is in front of your ear, and if you put your fingers there and move your jaw up and down or left and right you can feel the temporomandibular joint move.
What is the TMJ?
The TMJ is a complex joint with several different muscles connecting here from the lower jaw to the skull. It also includes a disk that acts like a shock absorber when you move your mouth. This complicated arrangement means that your jaw can move in several different ways, including up and down like a hinge, side to side, and in a gliding motion. Because of its complex nature, disorders of the TMJ can be tricky to diagnose and treat.
What is a TMJ Disorder and What Does it Feel Like?
TMJ disorders occur when you experience pain or discomfort in the joint or in the muscles and tissues surrounding it. More than 35 million Americans experience some type of TMJ disorder, most often between the ages of 20 and 40. Women are more likely to develop a TMJ disorder.
The symptoms of TMJ disorder vary by person and by the cause of the disorder. If you have a TMJ disorder you may experience any of the following:
- A clicking sound or a grating sensation when you move your jaw. You might especially notice this when eating.
- Tenderness, pain, or stiffness in your jaw.
- Pain radiating through your jaw, neck, or face.
- A feeling like your jaw is locking, which makes it tough to open or to close your mouth.
- Your top and bottom teeth don’t line up the way they used to.
What Causes TMJ Disorder?
It is important to understand that the exact cause of a TMJ disorder cannot always be pinpointed. Often the symptoms begin for no obvious reason. However, there are some common events that could lead to damage to your TMJ, including trauma to the jaw or face. A blow to your jaw can damage the joint. Having arthritis can also cause deterioration in the joint that leads to pain and discomfort. You may also develop a TMJ disorder if you grind or clench your teeth, especially during the night while you sleep.
How Are TMJ Disorders Treated?
If you know the underlying cause of your TMJ disorder, such as arthritis or an injury, you can treat that condition. When the cause isn’t known, anti-inflammatory pain medications can be helpful in treating the symptoms. It also helps to avoid hard foods or to use a mouth guard. When these measures don’t bring relief, surgery is sometimes used to attempt to fix any structural issues in the TMJ.
If you experience any of the pain or discomfort associated with a TMJ disorder, it’s important that you see your doctor.