For those of you who don’t know, TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint. It is a joint present between the bone present at the side of the head, called the temporal bone, and the mandible (i.e the lower jaw). It is the joint along which the mouth opens and closes. The various conditions which are associated with the TMJ are know as TMJ disorders. TMJ disorders have various signs and symptoms, many of which can be associated with other conditions which makes the diagnosis of TMJ disorders tough. TMJ disorders include various sub-conditions which include pain associated with the TMJ, to the dislocation of the TMJ, to the inflammation of the TMJ.
What are the causes of TMJ disorders?
TMJ disorders are very common and can be seen at any age. They are seen more predominantly in women as compared to men. The exact cause of TMJ disorders has not been pin-pointed, although scientists have been able to identify various factors which may lead to the precipitation of TMJ disorders.
Trauma to the TMJ is seen as a major cause of TMJ disorders. Although there is a strong correlation between facial trauma (for example in cases of vehicular accidents) and TMJ disorders, trauma cannot be taken as a definitive cause of TMJ disorders due to the fact that there are many cases of TMJ disorders in which the patient has not went through any facial trauma.
Clenching and grinding of teeth has also been associated with TMJ disorders.
As clenching and grinding are seen to be associated to stress, stress can also be taken as an indirect cause of TMJ disorders.
Arthritis of the joints is also seen to cause the TMJ disorder and will lead to the swelling of the region, along with pain.
What are the signs and symptoms of TMJ disorders ?
There are various signs and symptoms of TMJ disorders. Each of these signs and symptoms will have association with different types of TMJ related conditions.
An individual suffering from TMJ disorder may exhibit pain in the jaw region. It is not uncommon for the patient to also feel referred pain near the ear. This can sometimes be a source of confusion for a patient, as they associate the pain with the ear, and not with the closely present joint.
Swelling may also be seen in the region of the TMJ. This swelling can also render the area tender.
Clicking and cracking sounds from the TMJ region can also be a sign of TMJ disorders. It should be taken into consideration that there are many cases in which a person may have clicking and cracking of the TMJ region, but still not suffer form any disorders.
If you exhibits problems such as difficulty in opening your mouth, or difficulty in speech due to tightness in your mouth, this can also be a cause of concern, and be associated with TMJ disorders.
Sometimes in patients suffering from temporomandibular joint disorders, cases have been seen in which the jaw gets stuck into a certain position. This can be alarming at first, but in most cases the jaw can be pushed back into position with the hands. Even if this awkward situation can be reversed with your hands, it does not mean you can skip going to your dentist. Upon such a circumstance arising, visiting your dentist should be your first priority.
Headaches are a common symptom associated with TMJ. In fact, constant headaches can be a great indicative factor for TMJ disorders, although headaches alone cannot conclusively diagnose TMJ disorders. The close proximity of the trigeminal nerve with the TMJ is the reason why TMJ disorders are associated with headaches, as the trigeminal nerve is responsible for carrying a large portion of neural signals to the brain, and hence any damage associated with the TMJ may lead to impinging of the trigeminal nerve and hence headaches.
In order to get relief from the TMJ associated headaches, it is of prime importance to rectify the underlying cause of the TMJ disorder, as if this is corrected, the headaches will automatically subside. We will discuss treatment options in details later in this post.
How are TMJ disorders diagnosed?
TMJ Disorders can be diagnosed by various methods.
Previous medical and dental history should be taken for patients who are suspected to have TMJ disorders. Past medical history should also include any cases of accidents of physical trauma which could be the be the cause of TMJ disorders.
Sometimes the signs and symptoms of the TMJ disorder can be enough to diagnose them. Clicking and cracking, along with other signs like pain and swelling, can also, to a reasonable extent, give the indication that an individual is suffering from TMJ disorders.
Radiographic methods can give a more conclusive evidence regarding the presence of TMJ disorders. X-rays are useful utilities which can be used so as to identify the TMJ disorders. In more advanced cases, in which the relationship between the bones and muscles also wants to be seen, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) can also be used to diagnose TMJ disorders.
Treatment of TMJ Disorders
There are various modes of treatment TMJ disorders, many of which you may even implement within the comfort of your home, while others will require intervention from a dentist.
Home Treatments for TMJ Disorders
You should avoid eating hard foods which can lead to undue stress on your TMJ
If you are suffering from mild pain, many over the counter medication are available which can provide some relief. Ibuprofen (Advil) and Tylenol (acetaminophen) are usually already present at homes, and if not, easily available in any neighbourhood pharmacy.
If you are suffering from TMJ pain, you should avoid unnecessary motion of the region. Doing gentle massages to the region will also increase blood circulation, and hence give some relief.
Ice packs are a fast and convenient way to tackle TMJ pain
Clinical/Surgical Treatment of TMJ Disorders
Sometimes home remedies are not enough to treat TMJ disorders or provide relief from its associated symptoms. This is when intervention is required by a professional. Even if you get relief from the home remedies, you should still consult a specialist regarding your symptoms to rule out any potentially more serious conditions. Here I have discussed some common modes of professional treatment
A mouth guard is a device resembling a night guard which can be given to intercept and hence prevent clenching and grinding of teeth. When these habits are checked, over time, the associated TMJ disorder will be rectified.
Physical therapy is also a useful utility when it comes to relaxing the TMJ and increasing blood circulation.
Botox injections are also seen to help in providing relief to TMJ associated pain.
Temporomandibular Joint Arthroscopy is an invasive procedure which can be done in extreme cases, to help in alleviating the TMJ disorder associated symptoms. With this procedure, we can reposition the joint, and also shape the bone so as to correct faults which are leading to pain and discomfort.
TMJ disorders are having so may causes and so many associated symptoms, that it can be hard to pin-point, and also hard treat them. But with proper diagnosis and a follow up of adequate treatment, relief can be provided.