Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ)

Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ)

by Stephanie Meadows

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is one of the most heavily utilized joints in the human body. Mechanically, the TMJ is what allows you to open and close your mouth, and to a lesser extent, extend and move your jaw from side to side. Functionally, it facilitates eating, talking, and facial expressions. Like so many parts of the human body, the TMJ usually only receives attention when something goes wrong. 

The temporomandibular joint is the joint that connects your jaw to your skull. When this joint becomes injured or damaged, it can lead to a disorder called temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ). Common factors for TMJ include injury to the teeth or jaw, a misalignment of the teeth or jaw, grinding teeth (bruxism), poor posture, stress, arthritis, and even chewing gum.

Signs and symptoms of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome include:

  •  Pain in the jaw joint
  • Jaw clicking and popping
  • Ear pain/earache
  • Popping sounds in ears
  • Headaches
  • Stiff or sore jaw muscles
  • Pain in the temple area, or locking of the jaw joint

Grinding of the teeth, also known as bruxism, is a very common problem. For many people, this occurs at night during sleep (nocturnal bruxism).  Since it occurs during sleep, many people are unaware that they’re even doing it, but the noise generated can be unbearable for a sleep partner.

People with nocturnal bruxism often wake up the next morning with tightness and soreness of the jaw muscles. Bruxism over time can cause destruction of tooth enamel, the formation of gaps between teeth as teeth start to shift, and damage to the TMJ joint. Some people who suffer from bruxism are first diagnosed during routine dental visits when the dentist notices destruction to your enamel.

A common treatment for TMJ is the use of a night guard. The dentist will give you a plastic mouthpiece that covers the teeth, and prevents enamel on enamel contact. The night guard is usually fitted to the upper (maxillary) teeth. In general, a dentist fabricates custom night guards with a unique mold taken of your teeth.

Although usually more expensive, custom night guards are a better choice than over-the-counter versions for a number of reasons. Custom night guards tend to be thinner and more comfortable. In addition, custom night guards are molded specifically to a person’s teeth and bite. If your night guard doesn’t fit well, it can actually cause shifting of teeth and worsen TMJ symptoms. Other treatments for TMJ dysfunction include injections directly into the joint, and jaw surgery if the condition is at its worst.

To learn more about TMJ and how a dentist can help, call Hagerman Dental Care at (651) 646-2392, or use our online form to request an appointment