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  • Writer's pictureJackie Windham

What is TMJ?

The temporomandibular joint is located at the base of the skull. Commonly referred to as the TMJ, it allows for the movement required for chewing and talking. The joint connects the mandible, which is the lower jaw, and the temporal bone, which is on the side of the skull. Since the TMJ allows for movement both up and down as well as from side to side, it is one of the most complex joints in the body.

What are TMJ disorders? TMJ disorders are conditions that affect the TMJ (temporomandibular joint) specifically. There is a range of possible symptoms, which can cause varying amounts of discomfort. TMJ disorders are a broad category, and the term includes many possible causes. As such, there are a variety of treatment options available. Doctors may diagnose TMJ disorders based on a range of symptoms, including persistent pain around the jaw and restricted jaw movement. Most cases of TMJ disorders will resolve themselves within a short period, usually within a couple of months. Some cases, however, may be ongoing or reoccur.

Causes: There are many possible causes of TMJ disorders. Some known causes include:

  • Physical injury

  • Grinding the teeth while asleep may lead to TMJ disorders.

  • Arthritis

  • Grinding or clenching the teeth during sleep

  • Autoimmune diseases

  • Dental surgery

  • Infections

Other causes may be genetic, hormonal, or environmental. For instance, violinists have been noted to experience TMJ disorders at a higher rate than the general population, since their work involves holding an instrument under the jaw. This can cause strain, which leads to TMJ disorders. It has been observed that women experience TMJ disorders at a higher rateTrusted Source than men, so researchers are currently looking into hormonal causes for TMJ. While the cause is not precisely understood, researchers hope that investigating the link between the female hormone estrogen and TMJ disorders will prove useful.

Symptoms There is a range of symptoms linked to TMJ, including:

Pain: One of the most obvious symptoms of a TMJ disorder is pain that is felt when moving the jaw. However, other symptoms that may occur with a TMJ disorder include headaches or migraines, neck ache or backache, and earaches or pain around the ear that spreads to the cheeks. If the pain is not located near to the jaw, a doctor will often look for other symptoms before diagnosing a TMJ disorder. Sounds: A common but often painless symptom is an unusual popping, clicking, or even grinding noise that can occur while eating, talking, or simply opening the mouth. Noises that occur when moving the jaw are not always a symptom of TMJ disorders. In fact, jaw noises are quite common. It is only when the sounds occur alongside pain or limited movement of the jaw that medical advice may be needed. Buzzing, ringing, or numbness in the ears can occur alongside earaches, and these symptoms can also be associated with TMJ disorders.

Restricted movement: Limited movement that prevents the mouth from being opened fully or the jaw from being moved in certain directions can cause severe discomfort in everyday life.

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