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Do I have TMJ Dysfunction? What is TMJ Dysfunction anyway?

Dr. Alex Quintner

We ask a lot of our mouth and jaw. With every word said, bite chewed, yawn caught, and clench mindlessly made, our jaw is in motion, and the Temporomandibular Joint makes this all possible. The Temporomandibular Joint is located in front of the ear, connecting the lower jaw bone to the skull.  It is connected by two flexible ligaments, padded with the articular disc, and pulled by multiple muscles to create the up/down motions, side/side motions, and everything in between. TMJ Dysfunction (or Temporomandibular Joint Dysfuction) also know and TMD or TMJ syndrome, occurs when these perfectly balanced parts begin to function incorrectly.

Symptoms of TMJ Dysfunction

TMJ Dysfunction can be caused by a variety of unrelated things. It does not always occur on both sides of the jaw, and is more commonly found in women than men. General estimates suggest that over 10 million Americans are suffering from some level of TMJ Dysfunction.

Those who are affected by TMJ Dysfunction usually experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Pain centered around the jaw, upper neck, or around the ears
  • Stiff jaw muscles
  • Limited movement in the jaw, while chewing or speaking
  • Clicking, grating, or popping of the jaw
  • Stiff jaw muscles
  • Locking of the jaw
  • Change in how the upper and lower teeth fit together

Causes of TMJ Dysfunction

There is no singular cause of TMJ Dysfunction, instead there are a number of things that may lead to this diagnosis. With so many different causes, it is often difficult to diagnose TMJ Dysfunction.

  • Arthritis (osteoarthritis) – Similar to the other joints in the body, arthritis can affect the jaw bone negatively, causing pain and poor movement.
  • Accidental Injury – A traumatic event can knock the jaw bone out of alignment, dislodge the articular disc, or put strain on the connecting ligaments.
  • Nightly Grinding (bruxism) – The nightly occurrence of teeth grinding or clenching can put a great deal of stress on the Temporomandibular Joint, wearing it down and preventing healing rest.
  • Damage to the articular disc – The articular disc, padding the joint, can become worn over time, developing a hole or tear.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis – The joint can begin to fuse, causing pain and limited movement

Diagnosis of TMJ Dysfunction

With so many different causes and symptoms of TMJ Dysfunction, it can often be difficult to diagnose, as it presents differently in every patient. This is why it is imperative to discuss any symptoms with your dentist immediately.

When I am presented with a patient experiencing jaw issues, I take a detailed medical history and review the full range of symptoms. I then perform a physical exam, noting any sounds, tenderness, misalignments, or difficulty moving. Often, I’ll take a Cone Beam 3D scan, checking for irregularity of the joint’s surface.

Treatments for TMJ Dysfunction

TMJ Dysfunction can be diagnosed at as acute (lasting for less than 3 months) or chronic (going beyond 3 months.)  The treatment will almost always match the severity, as most cases require little to no direct care, while others will require surgical intervention.

  • Medication – Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can help the muscles relax allowing the area to heal. This would be over-the-counter, such as Aleve or Advil, but we would warn you to remain careful of the area. These medications can reduce the pain temporarily during the healing process, but this means you may be more likely to re-damage the area.
  • Bite Plate or Splint Therapy – If the jaw is misaligned, or if the issue was caused by Night Grinding / Bruxism, a mouth guard would aid in the healing process, preventing further damage and holding the jaw in its rightful place as it heals.
  • Ice Packs – Much of the issue can be inflammation of the area, so treating it with ice packs should ease this cause.
  • Surgical Repair – Only in extreme cases is surgery required, and the level of surgery is dependent upon the level of interior damage. The most extreme cases will require a replacement joint to be installed, while others may repair the articular disc or exterior ligaments.

If you are suffering from jaw pain, jaw issues, or suspect you may have TMJ Dysfunction, please call my office today. We will review your symptoms, check the issue, and help find a diagnostic solution that will bring you relief. Call the Sensitive Care office today at 203-951-5540.