What is TMJ?
TMJ, also referred to as TMJD or TMD, is an abbreviation for temporomandibular joint dysfunction. It describes problems with the joint that connects your to your skull. The movement of these joints can be felt by placing the fingers on each side of the face, directly in front of your ears, and opening and closing the mouth.
People who experience TMJ typically have pain in the general area of the jaw joint, which may present as headaches or radiate into the neck, shoulders and inside the ears. They may be unable to open their mouth widely; the jaw may even "lock" in an open or closed position. There is often a feeling of grinding or clicking that accompanies jaw movements like talking or chewing. Some TMJ sufferers notice that their upper and lower teeth do not fit together properly.
There are several conditions thought to cause or contribute to TMJ. These include injuries like whiplash, teeth grinding or clenching (bruxism), arthritis or stress. TMJ is most commonly diagnosed in people aged 20 to 40, and women are more likely to have TMJ than men.
Dentists diagnose TMJ through a combination of diagnostic imaging and physical examination; the movement of the jaw and the bite will be evaluated and compared with X-rays, CT scan or MRI images.
There are several treatments for TMJ that can be performed at home. Both over-the-counter and prescription medications can alleviate pain and promote muscle relaxation; alternating heat and ice to the affected area can also be helpful. Eating soft foods during "flare-ups" helps to give the jaw a much-needed rest. Holding the mouth properly - teeth slightly apart - relieves unnecessary pressure. Stress-relief therapy like yoga or massage may also help the patient achieve a more relaxed overall state.
If more conservative methods fail to bring relief, treatments like laser or TENS therapy may be necessary. In severe cases, surgery to repair the joint tissue or bones may be the most effective option.