The temporomandibular joint – or TMJ-, is the joint between the temporal bone of the skull and the mandible or jaw. To feel it, place fingertips just in front of the ears while opening and closing the mouth.
The structure of this joint allows it to deliver the forces required for chewing something crunchy or hard as well as opening wide to bite an apple.
The left and right sides work together but not always symmetrically. For example, chewing on one side of the mouth angles the joints slightly. For this reason, a problem with one side can affect the other..
Causes of TMJ pain
Stress and some dental issues can lead to teeth grinding at night. This is called bruxism. It can leave the muscles on the side of the face tired in the morning, and anyone sleeping nearby will likely let you know about it!
Tooth alignment, affecting the way the teeth meet for chewing and altering the chewing motion, can cause TMJ problems.
These joints, like many others in the body can become arthritic.
Injury and trauma, including dislocation can damage the TMJs.
If the general neck posture is quite ‘poke chinned’, TMJ problems can develop due to altered alignment.
Signs and symptoms of TMJ dysfunction
TMJ problems can include discomfort on opening or chewing. The joint contains a disc which if affected can cause clicking or even locking of the joint.
Solving TMJ problems can be complicated.
Often wearing a splint at night that prevents grinding can be very successful.
Exercises to stretch/ retrain muscles are effective for certain problems too.
When the disc is involved, or there are arthritic changes, the dentist may request additional treatment from a physiotherapist, or an oral surgeon.
If the pain occurs suddenly, over-the-counter pain relief and ice packs to the outer cheek can help with pain and swelling. Resting with a softer diet and by avoiding yawning and laughing if possible! If pain, especially with limited opening or clicking persist, make an appointment with your dentist