The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the articulation between the temporal bone and the mandibular condyle(lower jaw). The two bones are held together via muscles, joint capsules, ligaments, and other soft tissues. The two bones are also separated by an articular disc. The TMJ articular disc functions as a non- ossified bone that intermediates the complex movements of the mandibular condyle and the temporal bone.
The left and right TMJ's are not anatomically independent, but rather must move in coordination with each other and the teeth. The TM joints are commonly considered the most complex joints because they provide both rotary or hinge and translatory or sliding movement.
Movement of the TMJ's are made possible by five pairs of muscles that are attached to the facial bones. These muscle pairs must work together so that stress on both sides of the jaw is balanced.
If your muscles, bite and TM joints do not perform together, it may likely lead to a TMJ disorder (TMD) with resulting medical symptoms involving the head and neck.
Some common symptoms include difficulty opening the mouth and /or chewing; clicking or popping sounds around the jaw; jaw muscle tenderness; pain on the sides of the face that may spread to the shoulder and back of the head; ringing in the ears; hearing loss; "plugged ear" feeling and headaches that can mimic migraines.
Pain above and behind the eyes, at the sides of the head and the back of the head with clear absence of a medical diagnosis to explain the problem is a classic sign of TMD.
TMD is a long-term condition that takes time and patience to treat. The first goal is to relieve any pain and/or muscle spasms. Dentists use a wide range of treatments to manage TMD. These include, but are not limited to , bio-feedback training or relaxation techniques to reduce stress, soft food diet (short term), occlusal splints (orthotics), orthodontic treatment, and selectively grinding teeth to be sure they are in proper occlusion. Ultimately, the dentist strives to stabilize the bite so that the teeth, muscles and joints all work together without strain.
Your dentist will evaluate your TM joints during your regular dental visits. If you feel you may have TMD it is advisable that you discuss them with your dentist and have your joints evaluated.
Dr. Stephen Petras