Understanding TMJ disorder
What is the TMJ?
The TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint) is where the mandible (the lower jaw) joins the temporal bone of the skull. Each time you chew, you move it, but you also move it every time you talk and every time you swallow (every minute or so). It is, therefore, one of the most frequently used joints of the body.
You can locate the TMJ and feel it working by pressing your fingertips immediately in front of the ear on each side of the head then fully opening and closing your mouth.
You can also feel the TMJ in motion if you put the tips of your little fingers into your ear canal (with the fingernail backwards) then pressing forward as you open and close your jaw.
If you have TMJ Disorder this exercise may be painful. Most symptoms, however, are located away from the TMJ.
First identified in 1934 by the eminent ENT Specialist Dr. J. B. Costen, TMJ Disorder is a condition that occurs when the TMJs are subjected to excess pressure through misalignment or malfunction of the Teeth, Muscles and Jaw.
Costen was the pioneer in alerting medical and dental professionals to the condition. He demonstrated the fact that ear, head and neck pain could be eliminated by correcting an improper bite and removing excess pressure on the TMJs by “opening the bite” with intra-oral splints.
According to studies by the American Dental Association, approximately 75 million people in the United States suffer from some form of TMJ Disorder. It is still undiagnosed however, in many patients who have experienced years of chronic head, neck, ear and other pains.
Symptoms of TMJ Disorder
TMJ Disorder causes widespread and variable pains that may vary from mild, constant discomfort to severe, intermittent pain in the affected regions (see questionnaire).
Headaches, ear pain, facial and neck pain are the common symptoms. Often there is difficulty in opening the mouth and clicking in the joints.
TMJ Disorder is not so much felt in the joint itself as the affected muscles above and below the jaws.
It's a bit like having a stone in your shoe; not only does your foot hurt, but your ankles, legs and back become painful as the body tries to keep off the aggravated spot.
The Journal of the American Medical Association describes TMJ Disorder as the “great impostor” because it mimics many different diseases and has such a wide variety of symptoms.
Causes of TMJ Disorder
TMJ Disorder can be caused by a variety of forces that overload the temporomandibular joints.
• Misaligned teeth, missing teeth and poor dental work including orthodontics.
• Incorrect swallowing habit from childhood which push the jaw back.
• Myofunctional habits such as bruxing and grinding of teeth, mouth breathing.
• Tension resulting in clenching and grinding of teeth, is also a common cause as it overloads the TMJs and muscles.
• Incorrect jaw growth causing mismatch of the upper and lower jaws.
• Trauma such as a fall or car accident (very common in whiplash injuries).
• Degenerative diseases such as osteoarthritis.