Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome or TMJ

Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome or TMJ, is pain and inflammation in the joint and muscles on both sides of the jaw that allow the mouth to open and close. It’s more common in women than it is in men.

Symptoms and Causes

The symptoms are pain on one side of the jaw that can radiate to the temple, the back of the head, along the jaw line, or even the neck and shoulders. Other symptoms are tenderness in the jaw muscles that are used to chew. Earache, ringing in the ears and even a loss of hearing are other symptoms. There might be a popping sound when the mouth is open, or even an inability to completely open the jaw that interferes with eating and speaking. These symptoms tend to be worse in the morning. In severe cases, TMJ can lead to the bone in the joint deteriorating.

The causes of TMJ are grinding the teeth and contracting the jaw muscles, either because of stress or to try and align the “bite” between the upper and lower jaws. Sometimes the jaw is misaligned due to trauma or a congenital defect.

Osteoarthritis can also be a cause of TMJ, if it affects the jaw bone.

Some Treatments

One treatment that may relieve TMJ are biofeedback. The patient would sleep with a headband that can teach him or her not to clench the jaws or teeth. Meditation can also teach the patient how to relax and not tighten their jaw muscles. Psychotherapy might be used to help the patient cope with stress. A dentist might custom make a night guard prosthesis that will prevent tooth grinding, or bruxism, while the patient sleeps, and also helps align the jaws and the muscles. This device has splints that fit over the tops of the teeth that prevent bruxism.

Regular exercise is also good for treating TMJ, as it’s another modality that relieves stress.

Over the counter medications like Ibuprofen can be taken for pain. A doctor might even prescribe sedatives for relaxation.

In extreme cases, dental surgery might be performed to reconstruct a damaged temporomandibular joint, or reposition the jaws.