The TMJ is what connects the lower jaw to the skull: this is the joint just in front of the ear, and there are two on every person’s face. It’s made up of a powerful set of muscless, the blood vessels that feed them, many nerves, and the bones that are powered by the previously mentioned muscles. These muscles are what power every person’s chewing, they open and close the mouth when we talk, they can rotate the jawbone – in other words, they do a lot of work!
Place your fingers just below your ear and open your mouth and you will feel the TMJ at work. Your lower jaw’s rounded ends move along the joint socket of your skull, then move back into place when your mouth is closed. What keeps this motion smooth? A small, soft disc of cartilage that sits between the rounded ends of the lower jaw – the condoyles – and the skull.
What is TMJ Syndrome?
TMJ Syndrome itself is a pain in the jaw joint, which is often a harbinger of other medical problems. There are many potential causes ranging from age to disease, trauma to habit.
Types of Trauma
The following traumas can lead to TMJ Syndrome:
- jaw clenching
- bruxism (grinding of the teeth)
- impact from an accident or fight
- having the jaw stretched open for extended periods of time (such as during dental work)
Arthritis and TMJ
Arthritis due to aging or disease can break the joint down, cause cartilage loss, among other issues relating to this particular problem.
Symptoms of TMJ and When to Seek Treatment
TMJ Syndrome causes pain in the muscles of the face and jaw joints, which may also be felt in the neck or shoulders. This pain could lead to headaches or migraines, and be present while eating, talking, even yawning. You may experience pain in your ears, hearing loss, even tinnitus (which is ringing in the ears).
Look out for facial swelling, awkward jaw opening, and listen for clicking or popping when the joints move. Swallowing may also be difficult.
If you experience these symptoms, seek the aid of a dental professional.
What is Involved in TMJ Treatment?
In non-invasive therapy, the patient will have to give their jaw some rest. Warm compresses will be applied and the patient will be given pain medication. Hard candy, chewy foods and gum need to be avoided and the patient will have to stick to a diet of soft food until treatment is complete. A splint or bite plate may be required (it’s a plastic guard that fits over the teeth and helps with reducing clenching and bruxism).
More invasive techniques include using needles to wash the TMJ out. In this procedure, one needle is filled with a cleaning solution and the other needle removes said solution from the body. Pain medication can be delivered in the same manner.
Surgery is a last resort and can be used to replace jaw joints with implants. This is not recommended.