TMJ refers to the temporomandibular joint (the joint that connects the jaw to the skull). The temporomandibular joint involves many elements: muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, connective tissue and the teeth.
Acute or chronic inflammation of the TMJ can affect all of these elements, causing a temporomandibular disorder (TMD).
This includes a wide range of symptoms:
- tinnitus (ringing sound in the ears)
- neck and shoulder pain
- cracking, popping or grating sounds when opening or closing the mouth
- jaw pain or tenderness
- trouble or discomfort biting or chewing
- numbness and tingling in fingers and arm
Anything that places undue strain on the temporomandibular joint may contribute to TMD.
These include, but are not limited to:
- bruxism (unconscious grinding or clenching of teeth)
- trauma such as a blow to the jaw
- degenerative joint disease such as osteoarthritis
- excessive nail biting or gum chewing
- misalignment of the jaw or teeth (bad bite)
The first step in treatment is taking a thorough history, and then a thorough examination of the patient’s head and neck muscles, jaw and dentition to determine the extent and possibly what’s causing the inflammation of the TMJ. Treatment may include one or more different approaches depending on the cause:
Orthodontic treatment – If the TMD is thought to stem from a bad bite, orthodontic treatment to correct the misalignment may cure the TMD, and bring other cosmetic and health benefits also.
Splints (mouth guards) – if bruxism is causing TMD, nighttime mouth guards can reduce clenching in some patients.