The average person has heard of TMJ in passing yet lacks a full understanding of what it actually is. TMJ is an acronym that stands for the TemporoMandibular Joint.
Here is a look at what the TMJ is really all about and why it has the potential to prove problematic for every patient.
The Basics of TMJ
The temporomandibular joint is positioned at the skull’s base in front of the ear. It connects the lower portion of the jaw with the upper portion. Yet the TMJ is not like other joints within the human body. The TMJ has a highly unique structure characterized by a rounded protrusion of the lower jaw that rests against an indentation within the skull as well as a disc-like structure comprised of soft bone cartilage between the bones. These three components of the TMJ are held together with ligaments originating from portions of the head and neck for support of the jaw and the guiding of its movements. Plenty of muscles are connected to these ligaments and assist in the movement of the lower jaw.
How The TMJ Works
The TMJ functions in a couple unique ways. It serves as a hinge of sorts that opens and closes the mouth, similar to a door hinge. The TMJ also provides the sliding motion, referred to as translation, in which the lower portion of the jaw moves downward and forward. This movement allows the TMJ to move back and forth and side to side for everything from eating to talking, singing and yawning.
The TMJ is at Risk
Just like any other joint, the TMJ has the potential to be fractured, feel sore or swell and cause a limited movement of the lower jaw as well as significant pain along the head and neck. Though a fracture to the articular disc is less common, displacement is possible that leads to significant pain and swelling. TMJ arthritis is quite rare yet it is possible to treat it with anti-inflammatory drugs. In some instances, pain in the TMJ proves to be temporary. In such instances, the TMJ can be treated with ice and heat for relief. If relief is not obtained, do not hesitate to reach out to your TMJ dentist for assistance.
The Issue of Clenching and Grinding
In many cases, the pain stemming from the TMJ area comes from the teeth rather than the TMJ and nearby ligaments. This can occur as a result of teeth grinding. If the teeth are misaligned, teeth grinding and other movements that cause the teeth to rub against one another can spur significant pain within the joint. Even something like work or anxiety has the potential to lead to such aggressive activity within the jaw.
It is possible for teeth clenching to spur TMJ pain. Plenty of patients clench their teeth at night when sleeping yet have no idea they are doing it. This is precisely why it is so important to meet with a TMJ dentist. A TMJ dentist can prescribe a translucent night guard that alleviates symptoms following a comprehensive diagnosis.