So what exactly is TMJ? How does it affect you and how is it diagnosed?

Experts define TMJ or the Temporomandibular Joint as the joint that involves the proper function of several ligaments, bones, and muscles below the area of the ears.  TMJ or Temporomandibular Joint Disorder is a painful condition involving the joint and muscles where the jawbone joins the skull.  It’s a syndrome used to describe painful conditions of the muscles around the temporomandibular joint and refers to the inflammation of this joint. The actual joint consists of a disc that is located between the socket and ball. This joint is the point at which the mandible, or jawbone, is attached to the skull. The TMJ joint links the jaw to the side of the head and facilitates mouth functions such as yawning, chewing, and basically anything that involves opening and shutting of your mouth. It affects the face, head, jaw, neck, jaw nerves, and muscles as well as the temporomandibular joint itself.

The TMJ joint lets the jaw move and function correctly. TMJ problems usually occur when doing these movements, therefore, any problem that stops these parts from properly working causes TMJ disorder or TMD. The root cause of this disorder is excess strain on the jaw joint brought about by a variety of reasons. The condition may be chronic, meaning it lasts continuously for three or more months, or it may be acute, meaning it comes and goes, lasting for a shorter period of time. Less serious cases may not last as long, and the pain and discomfort may come and go periodically. For individuals with TMJ or TMJ dysfunction, difficulties with the joint and the muscles surrounding it can cause problems.

What Are The Symptoms Of TMJ?

It is one of the most painful of all the dental problems and can make it extremely difficult for a person to chew his food properly. In addition to the pain felt in the jaws, TMJ patients sometimes also suffer from neck pain and headaches too. Chronically occurring headaches and migraines are some of the TMJ symptoms, commonly felt in the hours after waking, are often experienced by sufferers of TMJ. The cause of these headaches is TMJ bruxism, which means that during sleep, the person is clenching and grinding their teeth without knowing they are doing so. These are known as TMJ headaches.

Other TMJ symptoms include a painful neck, ear pain, and pain in the shoulder are other types of pain found to occur in this disorder. Ear pain is sometimes confused for an infection. This pain is caused from the swelling and inflammation of the mandibular nerve. The swelling affects surrounding areas, and the ear canal is located close to this nerve. Nausea and dizziness are also TMJ symptoms. These also result from disturbances in the ear due to swelling and inflammation. Sometimes the disorder causes odd noises such as clicking, grinding, and popping when opening and closing the jaw. These can occur with or without pain, and should be considered a possible symptom either way. Some sufferers are not able to fully open or close their jaws because of TMJ. However, if there is no limitation of movement or pain linked with your clicking jaw, you probably do not have TMJ. [Read More About TMJ Symptoms]

TMJ Diagnosis

To do a TMJ diagnosis is not that simple since TMJ symptoms are shared with other conditions. The symptoms vary among patients from such symptoms as ringing ear pains to tension headaches. It could therefore take months and a couple of doctors before you get an accurate diagnosis on your condition. However, a dentist is in the best place to assist TMJ patients since the joint is in the facial area.

If you suspect that you may be suffering from any TMJ complication, it is recommended that you visit your dentist. The diagnosis of this disorder is initiated with an oral health check-up. This is a thorough procedure which will examine the jaw area for any tenderness or swelling. Jaw joints are also assessed to identify if there is any clicking and if their movement is in order.

A clench test is also conducted. This is done to identify the nature of the pain you are undergoing. The clench test reveals the teeth’s structure and a bad bite is usually a result of pain either in the jaw or teeth. X-rays are also taken to carry out a proper analysis of the jaw structure. The X-ray and teeth impressions are both used to create a jaw/bite connection and hence identify the state of the TMJ.  A T-Scan is used to further establish the exact disorder present.

Depending on the extent of your condition and your TMJ symptoms your dentist may require you to take an MRI or CT scan amongst other analysis tests on your jaw joint. It is important to ensure that you visit your dentist regularly, and especially when you constantly clench your teeth or feel jaw pains. TMJ can be very painful and uncomfortable, so early treatment is advised in order to treat or cure TMJ. [Read More About TMJ Diagnosis]

What Causes TMJ?

There can be several causes for TMJ, which include jaw injuries, tension and hormonal changes. The initial symptoms of the disorder are neck and shoulder pain and difficulty in opening and closing the jaws. If a person starts experiencing any one of these symptoms, he must immediately contact a dentist.

Also problems involving the bite can often cause TMJ and TMJ symptoms. An irregular bite affects how the mandibular joint functions. Repetitive opening or closing in an irregular way can irritate the nerves and muscles of the joint, resulting in TMJ jaw pain.TMJ disorders are caused by a variety of different kinds of problems – such as jaw injury, arthritis, or fatigue of the muscles from grinding or clenching your teeth. Sports injuries, automobile accidents, and arthritis are other causes of TMJ.

Stress is another possible cause of TMJ, because unintentional tightening and clenching of the jaw can occur. Stress can also cause involuntary habitual movements of the jaw, and can upset the nerves and muscles in the joint connecting the jaw to the skull. [Read More About TMJ Causes]

How Can TMJ Be Treated?

In the majority of cases, the discomfort, pain or other symptoms of TMJ problems can be alleviated with self-managed care or treatments that are non-surgical. Severe TMJ disorders might need to be treated with surgical or dental interventions. TMJ cannot usually be treated with the use of over the counter pain medications because they are not designed to treat neurological pain. Seeing a dentist or an orthodontist can help determine the best course of treatment since every individual is different.

A simple therapy your TMJ doctor will try out is the TMJ appliance therapy. Your doctor may prescribe a mouth guard to be worn at night to prevent or reduce clenching or grinding of the teeth. A mouth guard is used to help reposition the lower jaw so as to reduce jaw stress and pressure. It also improves muscle function. This treatment option also helps recover a normal bite by putting the lower jaw in its rightful TMJ socket. Releasing pressure using a mouth guard is also effective in reducing tension headaches and migraines.

Certain types of anti-depressants can be prescribed to help manage the pain. These anti-depressants block the neurotransmitter receptors, reducing the amount of pain felt in the nerves. Sometimes a splint is necessary for treatment. This will allow the muscles of the jaw to relax more naturally, giving the joint the relief it needs to heal. If the patient is exhibiting abnormal movements of the jaw, correcting these habits can be an effective treatment for TMJ. At times these movements are involuntary and unknown to the patient, usually occurring while they sleep. Biofeedback headbands are available to be worn at night to help diagnose and correct this type of issue.

In the most severe cases, surgery may be required. This approach should only be used in the case of physical deformities, or when no other method of treatment has been successful. Surgery is serious, and the benefits may not outweigh the risks if the case is mild rather than serious. [Read More About TMJ Treatment]

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