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What in the World is TMJ?

No wonder they call it TMJ. Who could pronounce Temporomandibular Joint Disorder anyway? To begin, let’s discuss the temporomandibular joint. This joint is like a sliding hinge and it connects the jawbone to the skull. Think about how often this joint gets used. Here are some examples:

  • Each time you talk
  • Each time you yawn
  • When you sing
  • When you chew
  • When you grind your teeth

Our bodies are filled with hinges and they often get used even more than the hinges on your car door or that screen door on your back porch. Still, they continue to open and close regularly with very little maintenance. When TMJ pain or inflammation occur, in a sense, that hinge needs a little maintenance just like your squeaky door.

There is one of these joints on either side of your head. Medical and dental research has failed to identify the specific cause of TMJ, and tend to contribute it to a combination of factors. These include genetics, facial injury or arthritis. For some, it may be related to the clenching and grinding of teeth. Some people do this at night during sleep, but others may subconsciously clench or grind throughout their waking hours.

The good news is that in most cases, TMJ tends to be temporary and can be relieved using non-intrusive therapies. The most common treatment is over the counter anti-inflammatory medication such as Ibuprofen. Your doctor or dentist can provide a stronger medication if deemed necessary.

If you are wondering whether or not you have this condition, the best way to clarify your diagnosis is to see your dentist. Some red flags for TMJ include:

  • Facial pain
  • Aching around either jaw joint
  • Painful chewing
  • Locking Jaw joint
  • Feeling or hearing a clicking sensation in the joint

It should be noted that a clicking sensation that is not painful is generally not considered a serious medical problem, although it should be monitored all the same.

If you suspect you may have TMJ, your dentist will want to clarify or confirm this diagnosis. This is done through an examination which includes observing the jaw’s range of movement, listening for cracking or popping noises and examining the joint area for pain or tenderness.

Treatment varies based on the condition but can include oral splints, physical therapy, and counseling or education to decrease behavioral patterns that can lead to the problem, such as teeth clenching, nail-biting or the habit of leaning on the chin when at rest.

Contact us for more information on TMJ, and schedule an appointment today with your dentist if you think you are experiencing this problem.

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