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Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorder

Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorder

What is temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder?

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder is a term used to describe the pain that occurs in the temporomandibular joint which is the joint that connects the lower jaw to the skull at the temporal bone.

Temporomandibular joint disorder is also called temporomandibular joint syndrome.

What causes temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder?

We have two temporomandibular joints (TMJs), one on each side of our jaw. Each one is composed of blood vessels, bone, cartilage, muscles, and nerves. The TMJ allows us to bite and chew our food, talk, yawn, and open our mouth wide.

TMJ disorder can be caused by:

  • Trauma (eg, teeth grinding [bruxism], jaw clenching, a punch to the jaw, dental procedures that require the jaw to be open for extended periods)
  • Bone deformities
  • Cancer
  • Disease (eg, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Infection of the joint
  • Oral habits (such as persistent gum chewing)
  • Wear and tear due to aging.

What are the symptoms of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder?

Symptoms of TMJ disorder may include:

  • Difficulty biting or chewing food
  • Pain when chewing, talking or yawning
  • Pain may occur in the joint itself, in the ear, or radiate to the face, scalp, or shoulders
  • A jaw that is locked in position or difficult to open
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Jaw clicking, grating, or popping sounds when you bite
  • Muscle spasms that cause difficulty swallowing
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus) or hearing loss
  • Swelling of the face or mouth on the affected side.

Women are more prone to developing TMJ disorder than men. Some people may have a history of poor oral health or emotional distress.

How is temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder diagnosed?

Many people develop occasional pain in their jaw joint or when they chew, but you should see your doctor if the pain is severe and persistent, if it hurts to open or close your jaw, or if you have difficulty swallowing food.

A doctor will ask questions about your history and perform a physical examination. Other tests, ultrasound, or imaging studies may also be ordered.

How is temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder treated?

Treatment is best started as soon as possible especially if a habit you have (such as chewing gum) is contributing to the condition. People whose jaw is locked open or closed should go to a hospital emergency department where light sedation may be used before manipulating your jaw.

Other treatments may include:

  • Acetaminophen
  • NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, naproxen, or diclofenac
  • Eating a diet of soft foods
  • Avoid chewing gum, hard candy or chewy foods
  • Apply warm compresses to the area of pain
  • Gentle massage.