Jaw Joint (TMJ) Disorders
There are a growing number of people suffering from temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, also referred to as jaw joint disorders. Interestingly, more women than men experience TMJ problems.
The mouth opens and closes because of the work done by our two jaw joints and several jaw muscles. They work together when you chew, speak, and swallow. People who suffer TMJ problems may experience symptoms such as pain on the side of the face or head, clicking and popping sounds in the jaw joint, uneven bite, or problems with jaw movement, which can affect talking, eating or even smiling.
Knowing the Causes
Factors such as traumatic injury to the jaw joints and ill-fitting dental fillings can trigger TMJ problems. A poor bite or multiple missing teeth could be a triggering factor too. Occasionally, if one attempts to open the jaw too wide and dislocates the jaw joint, this may damage the cartilage in the jaw joint and cause TMJ problems in the future.
One of the most common characteristics amongst patients in big cities is stress. We know that bruxism (teeth grinding) is related with day time stress. When a person is highly stressed, he or she is more likely to grind his teeth during sleep – it is not surprising that the jaw muscles are tired in the morning, resulting in jaw pain during the day. This is called myofascial pain and is one form of a TMJ disorder.
Diagnosis is an important step before treatment. Part of a clinical examination includes checking the joints and muscles for tenderness, clicking, popping or difficulty in moving. A patient’s complete medical history may be reviewed- thus it is important to keep dental office records up-to-date. The dentist may make a model of patient’s teeth to see how the bite fits together. Specialized x-rays for the TMJ area may be needed.
Treatments for TMJ disorders may include stress reducing exercises and muscle relaxants. Bruxism can be easily treated with dental appliances such as a mouth guard. If the patient is experiencing a locked jaw (inflammation of the jaw joint), he might benefit from an injection of steroids or painkiller into the jaw joint. In cases where missing teeth or a poor bite are the reasons for the symptoms, then dental rehabilitation using crowns, dentures or dental implants may be the solution. In situations where the pain condition is difficult to pinpoint, a visit to a neurologist or a specialist dealing with pain may be needed.
TMJ treatment typically requires more than two months of treatment to show some results. This is due to the fact that healing of jaw joints, the associated cartilage and muscles requires time. Occasionally, fixing and repairing the bite/teeth may be needed to ensure predictability.
Preventive measures include choosing regular-sized food portions and cutting food into small portions before eating. Dietary supplements for the joint such as glucosamine will also strengthen the jaw joints’ cartilage as well as speed up the healing process.