Temporomandibular Joints / ”TMJ”

The temporomandibular joints and jaw muscles make it possible to open and close your mouth. They are located on each side of the head and include muscles, ligaments, and the jaw bone. Your TMJ works together when you chew, speak or swallow. They also control the lower jaw (mandible) as it moves forward, backward, and side to side. Each TMJ has a disc between the ball and socket or hinging parts. The disc cushions the load between both parts while enabling the jaw to open wide and rotate or glide. If any problems occur with the muscles, ligaments, discs, or bones this may result in a painful TMJ disorder.

Possible Causes of TMJ Disorders:

  • Teeth grinding
  • Stress (leading to grinding or clenching)
  • Injury
  • Dislocation (functioning outside of normal range)
  • Alignment of teeth between the upper and lower jaw
  • Arthritis
  • There are several treatments for TMJ disorders. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research suggests trying nonaggressive treatment first before moving on to more involved treatment. “A less is often best” approach is recommended by the NIDCR. Try these simple treatments first:
  • Eat softer foods and avoid chewy, dense foods such as bagels or subs.
  • Do not chew gum or bite your nails.
  • Cut up foods such as apples or carrots. Let your molars do the chewing, avoid using your front teeth (incisors).
  • Modify pain with heat packs or anti-inflammatory medications.
  • Practice relaxation (meditation) techniques to control jaw tension.

Part of the dental examination includes checking the joints and muscles for tenderness, clicking, popping, or difficult movements. Depending on the diagnosis, your dentist may refer you to a physician, oral surgeon, orthodontist, or a TMJ specialist.

Your dentist or physician may advise additional treatment including:

  • Exercises to strengthen jaw muscles; may also be referred to a physical therapist
  • Medication may be prescribed (ex. analgesics, anti-inflammatories or muscle relaxants)
  • A night guard or bite splint to decrease clenching or grinding affects on the teeth