The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint connecting the jaws to the base of the skull in front of the ears that allows the jaw to move up and down and side to side when talking, chewing, and yawning.
Problems with the jaw and the muscles in the face that control it are known as temporomandibular disorders (TMD), and they often cause severe pain and discomfort in one or both sides of the face which can be temporary or last many years.
More women than men suffer from TMD and it is most common among people between the ages of 20 and 40. Symptoms include headaches, tenderness in the face, jaw joint area, neck and shoulders and in or around the ear when chewing, speaking, or opening the mouth wide; difficulty opening the mouth; locking jaws; clicking, popping, or grating sounds in the jaw joint when opening or closing the mouth; a tired feeling in the face; trouble chewing or a sudden uncomfortable bite, as if the upper and lower teeth are not fitting together properly; swelling on the side of the face; and dizziness, hearing problems and ringing in the ears.
These symptoms arise from problems with the muscles of the jaw or with the parts of the joint itself and injury to the jaw or the muscles of the head and neck from a heavy blow or whiplash can lead to TMD.
TMD can also be caused by stress and anxiety which may lead to increased tension in the muscles and grinding or clenching of the teeth – especially common during sleep (known in dentistry as bruxism), which puts pressure on the joint. It is also a result of problems with the bite due to poor teeth positioning or tooth loss, and habits such as nail-biting or chewing pens.
Many other conditions cause similar symptoms including tooth decay, sinus problems, arthritis and gum disease, so to determine the cause the dentist at Harley Street Dental and Implant Clinic will ask about the patient’s health history and conduct a physical exam, checking the jaw for pain or tenderness and listening for clicks, pops, or grating sounds when it moves.
The dentist may take full face x-rays to view the jaw, temporomandibular joints, and teeth to rule out other problems and may need to do other tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computer tomography (CT). An MRI can show if the TMJ disc is in the proper position as the jaw moves, and a CT scan shows the bony detail of the joint.
TMD patients may be referred to an oral surgeon at Harley Street Dental and Implant Clinic and may also see an orthodontist in the practice to ensure the teeth, muscles, and joints work properly.
Other solutions include relaxation techniques, wearing a mouth guard at night to prevent tooth grinding and anti-inflammatory medication to reduce inflammation in the joint.
If you have experienced one or more of the symptoms above and would like a detailed TMJ assessment, book an appointment at Harley Street Dental and Implant Clinic.