WHAT IS A TMJ DISORDER?
The temporomandibular joint, or “TMJ,” is one of the most complex joints in the human body. The TMJs are the hinge joints that connect your lower jaw (i.e., mandible) to the temporal bone of your skull, which is immediately in front of the ear on each side of your head. You actually have two matching TMJs – that is, one on each side of your head – that work independently of one another. You can feel them by placing your fingers directly in front of your ears and opening your mouth.
Your TMJs are flexible; they allow your jaw to move smoothly up and down and sideways. They also enable you to talk, sing, chew, swallow, yawn, smile and breathe. Muscles attached to and surrounding the jaw joint control the position and movement of the jaw.
Jaw joint pain and dysfunction, as well as head, neck and facial pain that may be associated with TMJ disorder, is common in women who are of child-bearing age. However, the truth is that craniofacial pain and TMJ disorders can affect men and women of any age – including children.
In the simplest of terms, TMJ disorders involve disorders of the jaw joint and chewing muscles. TMJ disorders can cause pain in your jaw joint itself as well as pain in the muscles that control jaw movement. Additionally, the scientific literature is increasingly showing a strong correlation between patients who suffer from TMJ disorders and patients who suffer from sleep-disordered breathing problems, such as snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnea. For this reason, a dentist who has advanced education and training in managing TMJ disorders AND sleep-disordered breathing can often be the best person to help you get the results from treatment you need…and deserve.
The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), classify the categories of TMJ disorders as follows:
- Myofascial pain, which involves pain or discomfort in the muscles that control jaw function as well as your neck and shoulder muscles. It can also involve the structures that surround your jaw (i.e., nerves and blood vessels) and refer pain to orofacial areas like your teeth, sinus, gums and tongue.
- Internal derangement of the joint, which refers to a dislocated jaw or displaced disc. Trauma to the head, neck and facial areas may also cause internal derangements of the jaw joint.
- Degenerative joint disease which refers to a group of degenerative/inflammatory joint disorders that can affect the temporomandibular joint (i.e., osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.
TMJ disorders are estimated to affect more than 35 million Americans. In the vast majority of cases, the signs and symptoms associated with TMJ disorders can be managed effectively with conservative, non-surgical therapies that are provided by an experienced dentist.