TMJ stands for temporal mandibular joint. Temporal, which refers to the temple area of your skull; mandibular refers to the mandible, or lower jaw; and the joint in this case refers to the joint where the head attaches to the jaw. TMJ is a term commonly used to describe a number of painful or functional problems of the jaw. These problems are relatively common. Some studies suggest that as many as one in every four persons have some type of jaw problem. Fortunately, most of these people can be helped with treatment.
Problems with this joint may be caused by variety of reasons, including a misalignment of your teeth, some kind of physical trauma to the area, or an excess of muscle tension. There is cartilage which buffers the bones and muscles that come together in this area, but any of a variety of problems in this area can create quite a lot of pain and biting difficulties.
TMJ symptoms can include:
- Trouble or soreness in opening and closing the mouth
- Pain in the jaw muscles
- Ear aches
- Clicking or popping of the jaw
- Soreness in the area, sometimes extending to the face
- Grinding of the teeth
Treating TMJ can include such typical dental procedures as replacing missing teeth, adjusting the bite, moving teeth, and filling gaps between teeth. There is no single solution for TMJ, but an exam can show us what the cause is of the problem. Occasionally a plastic mouthpiece can be used to prevent the patient from clenching or grinding if it is deemed to be contributing to the problem.
There are various methods to manage TMJ problems. Usually a conservative treatment is indicated, using a bite appliance, orthodontics, bite adjustments, or crowns. Heat, mild medications, physical therapy and behavioral modifications are also employed.
If untreated and in some very severe cases, surgery might be required to repair a badly damaged temporal mandibular joint.