What is TMJ?
The TMJ refers to the temporomandibular joint. This is the sliding joint connection between the lower jaw and the skull. If someone says they have “TMJ” really this doesn’t make sense. It’s like saying “I have knee!” The correct terminology would be TMD or temporomandibular disorder.
OK, then what is TMD?
Clicking, popping, or grinding sounds are sometimes indications of displacement or damage to the cartilage within the joint. Locking of the jaw on opening can indicate a displaced joint disc. Pain can occur within the joint or in muscles surrounding the joint. Many people unconsciously grind their teeth at night. Grinding, also called bruxing, can put tremendous stressing forces on the joints as well as the teeth. This is especially the case if the occlusion, the way the teeth fit together, is not in good harmony with the position of the jaw joints. Joints can become inflamed. Arthritic changes can occur. Muscles can tense and ache. Headaches, muscles aches, and even neck aches, can result.
How Is TMD Treated?
Generally we try to treat TMJ problems conservatively. A night-time, hard, acrylic splint appliance that is carefully adjusted to restore the proper harmony between the joints and the bite is often very effective at relieving pain and preventing headaches. The appliance should be custom made in a laboratory in such a way that the jaw condyles are properly positioned when the teeth bite on the appliance. This position tends to relax muscles activity and help prevent further joint damage. If a splint appliance proves effective, then the bite can often be adjusted, (equilibrated) to improve the bite even when the appliance is not in the mouth. Sometimes medications such as pain relievers, tricyclic antidepressants, muscle relaxants, and sedatives are helpful. Botox injections of the jaw muscles can also provide relief. Physical therapy and jaw exercises can also help.