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Tell me about TMJ Disorder

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TMJ Disorder is an abbreviation of Temporomandibular Joint Disorder which sounds a lot scarier than it actually is. The Temporomandibular Joints are the joints located between the upper and lower jaw positioned on either side of the head. These joints act as the go-between for the upper and lower jaws and consist of muscles, bones, cartilage and tendons.

The TMJ’s are vital as they enable us to eat, chew and talk. In order to function properly the muscles within the TMJ’s should be relaxed and comfortable. TMJ Disorder is when something is wrong with the TMJ’s and the movement of the jaw is restricted or disturbed. We term this a ‘TMJ Disorder’.

Classic signs and symptoms of TMJ Disorder

The classic signs and symptoms of TMJ Disorder are underlined below:

  • Pain in the TMJ area (just in front of the ear) which may spread to the cheek, ear or temple.
  • Reduced jaw movement. A tight, ‘locked’ feeling in the jaw resulting in difficulty opening and closing the mouth.
  • Ear pain (50% of people with TMJ Disorder notice ear pain).
  • Noises such as clicks, popping and sounds within the ears when chewing/moving mouth.
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus).
  • Dizziness (vertigo).
  • Headache.
  • Neck ache.
  • Muffled/clogged ears (crepitus).

Causes of TMJ Disorder

TMJ Disorder is mainly caused by unrelaxed muscles in the TMJ’s as a result of stress and tension. However, there are many other reasons for the onset of TMJ Disorder.

  • Trauma to the jaw (such as being broken)
  • Overactive jaw muscles due to clenching the jaw during sleep (bruxism), grinding teeth, overeating or chewing (such as perpetually chewing gum)
  • Wear and tear inside the joint such as the cartilage (could be due to type of arthritis called osteoarthritis)
  • Stress and tension
  • Certain types of arthritis (inflammation in a joint) such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout
  • Injury to TMJ or cartilage disc

Diagnosis

If you experience any of the signs and symptoms of TMJ Disorder then you need to arrange an appointment with your doctor or dentist who will advise you on the next best step. Usually, blood tests, MRI scans or arthroscopy (a fibreoptic device to look inside the joint) will be arranged to identify the cause of the problem.

Treatment

Treatments for TMJ Disorder include:

  • Resting the jaw (eating soft food/avoiding chewing gum)
  • Heat and ice therapy to relieve muscle tension
  • Stress-reducing therapies such as counselling and psychotherapy to treat stress and tension
  • Painkillers such as Ibuprofen and relaxants such as Diazepam (Lithium)
  • Physiotherapy (jaw exercises)

No need to worry; it will all click into place

TMJ Disorders are not considered serious and the recovery rate is good. 1 in 10 people experience a TMJ Disorder at some point in their lives.

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