Temporomandibular Joint: What Is It?

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Many people are familiar with TMJ disorder and the pain it can cause to the jaw. If you want to understand the disorder, it is essential to learn about the namesake for it, i.e., the joint itself.

The Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) consists of three parts and operates as a hinge to connect your jaw and skull. This mix of bones, discs, and ligaments make the TMJ a unique structure in the skeletal system.

Overall, the TMJ is essential to many daily functions, especially chewing and speaking. The experts at Valley Ridge Dental Centre take a deep dive into this network to help you understand the disorder behind it and how to care for the TMJ.

Understanding the Joint

The Temporomandibular Joint is a series of jaw muscles and joints that act as a hinge to connect your jawbone to your skull. This network allows you to open and close your mouth! TMJ is essential for you to speak, swallow, and chew.

The joint encompasses both the rounded protrusion against the skull and the disc of cartilage between the protrusion and skull. These three parts hold together due to a series of ligaments, which stretch from the neck to the head. The ligaments support and guide the jaw. Altogether, these muscles and ligaments help control the motion of the lower jaw.

There are TMJ joints on either side of your head that work concurrently to allow you to speak and swallow. They also control the mandible, or lower jaw, when it moves backward, forwards, and side to side. The join has a disc between the ball and socket to cushion the load as the jaw opens and rotates.

The issue for most people is when something happens to this network of muscles, discs, ligaments, and bones. If anything prevents them from working properly, a painful TMJ disorder can result.

Causes of TMJ Disorder

With how essential the TMJ is to everyday activities, it is vital to know potential causes that may disrupt this network. Understanding the causes will help to establish a healthy and preventative oral care routine.

Some possible causes of TMJ disorder include:

  • Dislocation
  • Arthritis
  • Injury
  • Stress
  • Teeth Grinding
  • Jaw and Tooth Alignment

Risk Factors for TMJ Disorder

As with any medical issue, specific populations, demographics, and characteristics are more susceptible to TMJ disorders. Some factors that increase the risk of TMJ disorder include:

  • Having poor posture in the neck and upper back that lead to neck strain and abnormal jaw muscle function
  • Women between the ages of 18 – 44 have an increased risk
  • Stress that results in jaw clenching or muscle tension
  • Jaw trauma
  • Poorly positioned teeth
  • People with chronic arthritis
  • Genetic predisposition to pain sensitivity

Signs and Symptoms of TMJ Disorder

If you are contemplating a consultation with your dentist, you should know the indicators of a TMJ disorder. This list can help you determine what type of concerns you should bring to your dentist.

Some signs and symptoms of TMJ disorder include:

  • Migraines and headaches
  • Difficulty or pain while chewing or trying to open/close your mouth
  • Clicking or popping sounds when you move the joint
  • Pain in the neck or shoulders
  • Locking of the jaw joint
  • Sore or stiff jaw muscles
  • Muscle spasms in the jaw
  • Chronic joint pain, especially while eating and speaking
  • Earaches

Any of these symptoms on their own might be a sign of several issues, but if you see a combination of any, you should consult your dentist.

How Do You Address TMJ Issues?

If you are experiencing pain centred on your TMJ, diagnosis is the essential first step. The diagnosis involves a thorough dental examination to check for clicking, popping, tenderness, or difficulty moving. Your dentist in NW Calgary can refer you to a specialist or physician if needed.

You might meet with an oral and maxillofacial specialist, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor), or a dentist specializing in jaw disorders. They can complete further examination to diagnose or rule out the disorder. They might order an MRI of the temporomandibular joint to check for cartilage damage and other issues.

Treatment Options for TMJ Disorder

If something is wrong with the temporomandibular joint, you may find your daily routine severely affected. Treatment for any disorders is crucial to your health and well-being.

There is a simple treatment plan that you can try at home. The self-care routine is a stepping-stone to more complex treatment. The recommendations for simple treatment include:

  • Avoid chewing gum
  • Avoid biting your nails
  • Eat softer foods
  • Modify pain with heat packs
  • Practice relaxation techniques to alleviate jaw tension, such as biofeedback or meditation

What If That Does Not Work?

While the hope is that the simple treatment does the trick, some people need more complex solutions. If the above does not work, your dentist may advise other treatments like the ones below:

  • Analgesics, muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory, or anti-anxiety medications; your dentist will prescribe the appropriate medicines.
  • Exercises to strengthen jaw muscles
  • Bite plate or night guard to decrease grinding and clenching of teeth

In a few cases, it might be necessary to address TMJ issues by fixing an uneven bite or reshaping and adjusting teeth. This procedure might involve orthodontic treatment or even surgery. This treatment option will come after consultation and examination by your dentist.

What If It Is Not a TMJ Disorder?

A TMJ disorder is somewhat distinctive, but there might be other issues causing jaw pain. If you consult with a dentist, they may diagnose you with another issue.

A condition that manifests similarly to TMJ disorder is trigeminal neuralgia. With this condition, the trigeminal nerve sends impulses to the TMJ that causes facial pain. Other conditions might be swollen lymph nodes, salivary gland disease, giant cell arteritis, severe sore throat, braces, or ill-fitting dentures.

Since there are other potential causes at play, it is always essential to consult a dentist on the health of your TMJ.

Book an Appointment Today

If you have any concerns about TMJ disorder, schedule an appointment with our dental office in NW Calgary today. We can set you up with a consultation to figure out what treatments are necessary to get you back to living a life free of jaw discomfort or pain.

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