What is TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder)?

The temporomandibular joint, known as TMJ for short, acts like the sliding hinge in your jaw. TMJ consists of two points on either side of your jaw. These sliding hinges connect the jawbone to the skull. This joint is responsible for the control of movement in your jaw and your mouth.

Temporomandibular joint disorders can cause a great deal of pain and discomfort. TMJ disorder is an umbrella term. The disorder is used to define the dysfunction of the jaw muscles and bones. Fortunately, it is temporary and often just requires simple physiotherapy for complete treatment.

What are the main symptoms of TMJ disorder?

If you have any of the following symptoms, it may be due to a TMJ disorder. These symptoms include:

  • Difficulty chewing and swallowing due to soreness in the jaw
  • Pain in your ear, or in the vestibular region
  • Pain in either side of your face
  • Difficulty moving the jaw, even while speaking
  • Jaw feels “locked”, making it hard to open or close the mouth
  • Tenderness and ache in your facial region

Oftentimes, one of the more physical signs of TMJ disorder is a clicking sound. This sound occurs every time the mouth is opened or closed. It can also cause an uncomfortable grinding sensation on the side of your face and around your temples with movement, or while you chew. People who have jaw pain also have the tendency to clench their jaw or grind their teeth. If you have around three of these symptoms it is quite likely that you may be suffering from a TMJ disorder.

What causes TMJ disorder?

The temporomandibular joint consists of a disk, much like the disks separating our spinal vertebrae. This disk acts as a shock-absorbent mechanism and a smooth-movement hinge. Oftentimes, a TMJ disorder is the result of this disk not working up to par. Reasons for this include:

  • Erosion of the disk due to friction in a movement
  • Misaligned disk after an injury or trauma
  • Damage in the joint due to a bone disease like arthritis
  • Hereditary reasons

Who is most likely to develop a TMJ disorder?

It is difficult to know what would make you the most susceptible to developing a TMJ disorder. It is most common in those between the ages of 20 to 40. It is also seen to occur more in females than males. Some common risk factors include the following:

  • Diseases like Arthritis
  • Clenching of the teeth
  • Trauma or injury to the jaw

How can TMJ disorders be treated?

Since TMJ disorders are mostly temporary, they can be treated by regular physical therapy and physiotherapy exercises. It does not often require surgery. In fact, it is preferable that the disorder is cured without any irreversible treatments. TMJ disorders can be treated with normal pain medication, jaw exercises, and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Although TMJ disorders can be rather painful and discomfiting, they are often not permanent. They should not be cause for a large amount of worry. Physiotherapy and alternative therapy have proven to be successful treatments for these disorders. However, if the pain persists for longer than a few weeks, or if the movement continues to deteriorate, seek specialist help immediately.