Temporomandibular disorders (TMJ / TMDs) are often called “TMJ” by doctors, patients and even insurance companies, although the term TMJ actually refers only to the jaw joints themselves.
Temporomandibular joints TMJs are located on both sides of the face in front of the ears, connecting the jawbone (mandible) to the skull (temporal bone). They’re the most complicated joints in the human body, providing rotation (pivoting) movement like all joints, as well as sliding movement, called translation. That’s what allows us to open our mouths wide and move our jaws from left to right
TMD/TMJ describes a group of diseases that can involve the jaw joints, the muscles that control jaw movement and the dental occlusion. TMJ / TMDs are physical disorders arising from an imbalance in the delicate working relationship of the jaw and skull with the muscles that move the jaw, as well as the nervous system associated with these systems. This imbalance results in muscle fatigue, spasm and/or joint dysfunction, and even changes in the teeth, which in turn cause a variety of symptoms, unique for each person.
The causes of TMJ / TMD
The symptoms of TMJ / TMD, which affect millions of adults and children, can gradually appear with no apparent, specific cause. They also can occur after a trauma, such as a traffic accident or a blow to the face. Even subtle repeated traumas, like clenching the teeth or excessive gum chewing, nail biting or cradling a phone between your shoulder and the side of your head can cause TMJ / TMD . These conditions can also be caused by a bad bite (dental malocclusion), which is not synchronized with healthy muscle and joint function. Systemic diseases and developmental abnormalities also can cause TMJ / TMD.
Stress may play a part
Stress and tension may awaken a quiet, asymptomatic TMJ / TMD or aggravate an existing temporomandibular condition. However, stress alone does not cause TMJ / TMD if a patient has healthy dental occlusion and muscle and jaw function.
A thorough exam is critical
All too often patients are classified as “chronic pain patients” and their complaints pigeonholed as stress or psychological disorders. These patients may be relegated to treatment focusing only on medication and counselling, with no treatment of the physical cause of their illness. A thorough analysis of each patient is essential to determine the source of pain. Early and appropriate treatment of a TMJ / TMD may avoid the progression to a chronic pain state.