TMJ DISORDERS: CAUSES
“Craniofacial Pain” is an umbrella term that encompasses all pain disorders of the head and face, including TMJ disorders.
“TMJ” is an acronym that is used to refer to your temporomandibular joint – that is, your jaw joint. Hence, TMJ disorders involve pain and dysfunction of the temporomandibular joint (i.e., your jaw joint) and its surrounding structures. In addition to your jaw bones and jaw joints, TMJ disorders may also include problems with surrounding ligaments, blood vessels and nerves of your head, neck and face and/or problems with your teeth (or bite).
Possible causes of a TMJ disorder may include:
- Grinding or clenching the teeth, which put excessive pressure on the jaw joint and surrounding structures.
- Improper occlusion (i.e., a problem with your teeth or a ‘”bad bite”).
- Dislocation of the soft cushion, or disc, between the ball and socket of the jaw joint (note: a displaced disc may produce clicking or popping sounds, limit jaw movement and cause pain when you open and close your mouth).
- Neuromuscular imbalances (i.e., muscle fatigue and spasms, “pinched” nerves, and blood vessels that press on the nerves of the head and neck when the TMJs are misaligned).
- Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis in the TMJ, which causes damage to jaw joint’s bones, ligaments and cartilage.
- Stress at work or at home that can cause you to tighten your facial and jaw muscles, or clench your teeth.
- Trauma to the jaw, the jaw joint, or muscles of the head and neck from auto accidents, falls, sports injuries and whiplash.
- Poor posture, which can strain the muscles of the face and neck.
- Structural problems and/or genetic predispositions.
Craniofacial pain and TMJ disorders are more common in women than men. For this reason, researchers are exploring a possible link between female hormones and TMJ disorders. Poor diet and lack of quality sleep have also been identified as factors that may contribute to development of a TMJ disorder.
Since TMJ disorders can coexist with other medical conditions, diagnosis can be challenging. However, determining the cause(s) of your TMJ disorder is crucial as it will guide your treatment. Providing your dentist with a detailed dental/medical history to help rule out conditions such as sleep apnea, migraines, toothache, and sinus problems that can cause similar symptoms is also important.
When to Consult a Qualified Dentist
A wide variety of possible conditions can be the causes of your TMJ symptoms, from arthritis to whiplash injuries. If you are having trouble eating or opening your mouth, please see a dentist who has experience in assessment, diagnosis and management of TMJ disorders right away.
Keep in mind that 95% of all TMJ disorders can be treated conservatively – that is, with treatments that are non-surgical and do not invade the tissues of the face, jaw, or jaw joint.
You should also be cautious about pursuing any non-reversible treatment for TMJ disorders, such as surgery. Reconstructive jaw surgery is rarely required to manage jaw joint pain and dysfunction. In fact, studies show that patient’s symptoms are often worse than before the surgery.