What Is TMJ?

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders are some of the most common jaw and mouth conditions affecting millions of Americans. TMJ can vary in severity and occur due to a broad range of reasons, which can make finding the right treatment even more challenging. Here is what every adult should know about TMJ and how to work with your dentist to find the right treatment for you.


What Is TMJ?


The temporomandibular joint is something on either side of the head. These joints rest on each side of your face in front of the ears. When you chew or speak, your temporomandibular joints are what help your jawbone stay attached to your skull and move smoothly and comfortably.


You might also know TMJ as TMD, or temporomandibular joint disorder. These two terms are typically used interchangeably to refer to the same types of problems. Depending on the cause of your temporomandibular joint problems, you could have chronic or acute TMD and have anywhere from mild to excruciating pain.


What Are the Symptoms of TMJ or TMD?


Anyone can develop a temporomandibular joint disorder at any age, but it is most commonly found in adults who are between 20-40 years old. The common signs that you might have TMD include:

  • Persistent earaches that are not related to an ear infection

  • Feeling tired or exhausted

  • Jaw pain

  • Pain in your shoulders or neck

  • Headaches

  • Trouble opening or closing your mouth

  • Sounds of clicking or popping when you open your mouth, talk, or chew

  • Tinnitus

  • Changes in your bite

  • Tooth pain without decay or another cause

  • Swelling on one side of the face

Many of these symptoms can indicate other problems, like tooth decay or an oral infection. As a result, working with your dentist is very important to ensure that another diagnosis is not missed. In some cases, you might have a temporomandibular joint problem in addition to tooth decay. This might require your dentist to treat the initial problem before moving forward with other types of treatment.


What Are the Causes of TMJ Disorder?


If you have a temporomandibular joint disorder, there are a variety of reasons why it might be occurring, including:

  • Arthritis

  • Teeth grinding

  • Clenching your jaw

  • Injury to the jaw or mouth

  • Stress

  • Poor bite alignment

  • Trauma

A dentist can assist you in determining what might be causing your temporomandibular joint issues and come up with the best possible solution. Because there are so many different causes, the solution that is best for you might not be the same as the solution that is best for someone else.


How Can Your Dentist Diagnose TMJ Problems?


If you are having problems and think that you might have TMJ issues, you should schedule an appointment with your dentist. During your regular cleaning or a special visit, your dentist may evaluate you using a combination of different diagnosis tools, including:

  • Panoramic X-rays to look at your jawbone, teeth, and temporomandibular joints

  • CBCT scans that look at your sinuses, facial bones, teeth, and jaws to see if there are potential anatomy issues or teeth problems that are contributing to your pain

  • MRI scans that can pinpoint problems with the soft tissue in your jaw

  • Palpating your face, jaw, and neck to look for pain

  • Feeling and listening to your facial joints when you chew, open your mouth, close your mouth, or speak

Dentists are very familiar with temporomandibular joint disorders and will be able to help you find your solution.


What Are the Treatments for TMJ Disorders?


There are numerous different treatment options for patients with TMJ, including some non-surgical interventions and other more intensive processes. Some of the most commonly used treatments for TMJ include:

  • Using anti-inflammatory medications

  • Applying hot or cold packs to your jaw

  • Stress management

  • Bite splint therapy

  • Physical therapy

  • Diet modifications

Specialists are often able to work with patients one-on-one and find the best treatment for their temporomandibular joint pain and discomfort.