Your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is better known as your jaw. This joint mainly functions as a simple hinge, allowing you to open and close your mouth along with a bit of side-to-side movement. Despite its simplicity, the TMJ is of crucial importance for both speaking and eating. Unfortunately, the TMJ is also often subject to problems known collectively as temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD).
Your TMJ is made up of your mandible, or jaw bone, and the temporal bone of your skull. The temporal bone is located on either side of your head, and your jaw bone connects just below your ears. Like any joint, the TMJ is composed of more than just bone and also includes muscles and connective tissue. Any of these structures – bone, muscle, or connective tissue – can encounter a problem which leads to TMD.
What Sorts of Issues Can Affect the TMJ?
A few of the difficulties that may manifest in TMD include:
- Jaw pain
- Jaw stiffness
- Difficulty opening or closing your mouth all the way
- Catching when opening or closing your mouth
- Referred headaches from jaw pain
The root cause of these symptoms is often a jaw that has become misaligned through trauma of some sort. Also, some people are born with congenital defects that cause their jaws to be subject to frequent spontaneous dislocation. Additionally, arthritis of the jaw may mean that crucial bone has worn away, resulting in pain or dislocation. Finally, bruxism – teeth grinding – is a frequent reason for TMJ problems.
What Can Your Dentist Do?
Many patients do not realise that their dentist is concerned with more than just their teeth and gums. In fact, dentists care for your entire mouth. This comprehensive care includes many TMJ disorders and their causes.
If you report TMJ symptoms to your dentist, the first step they are likely to take is to try to find the underlying cause. This investigation will likely involve examining your mouth and your bite and may include x-rays. Once your dentist has discovered the reason behind your problems, they will recommend treatment.
For early cases of TMD, treatment may be as simple as taking some mild pain relievers like ibuprofen. Extremely serious cases of TMD that interfere with speaking and eating may require surgery.
For many patients, their dentists find that the cause of their TMD is nocturnal bruxism or teeth grinding during sleep. This problem is a common occurrence, and it can be easily addressed with the use of a night guard, also called a night splint. A resilient piece of plastic or resin, a night splint will prevent you from damaging your teeth in your sleep and will also help to cushion your jaw, alleviating TMD symptoms.
If you notice any of the signs of TMD mentioned above, do not hesitate to consult your dentist. They can help you relieve your jaw pain and prevent future worsening of the problem.