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What is TMJ and do you have it?

Patients often present complaining they have TMJ, but the truth is they are not using the correct terminology. TMJ is an acronym for the temporomandibular joint, and you don’t just have one, you have two! The TMJ is the joint that connects the mandible (lower jaw) to the skull or more precisely the temporal bone. Every person has a right and left TMJ. Often, when people say they have TMJ, they are incorrectly referring to temporomandibular mandibular joint disorder (TMD). TMD is a general term to describe pain associated with the jaw joint and the surrounding facial structures, including the facial muscles.

What causes TMD?

A variety of causes may be attributed to temporomandibular joint disorder including:

  • facial muscle fatigue and joint injury secondary to chronic teeth grinding (bruxism) or clenching

  • inflammation of the joint (arthritis) or surrounding joint capsule

  • displacement of the cartilaginous articular disc that serves as a cushion between the maxilla (upper jaw) and mandible (lower jaw) as the mandible opens and moves from side to side

  • stress

  • injury to the joint

What are the symptoms of TMD?

  • Painful clicking of the jaw

  • A reduction or limitation in opening or closing

  • Feelings of jaw tightness

  • Jaw locking open or closed

  • Headaches in the temples

  • Facial pain and tenderness

  • Pain behind the ears, neck pain, shoulder pain, and pain around the jaw joint

  • Pain with opening

  • Pain with chewing and talking

How is TMD treated?

If you believe you have TMD, you should visit your dentist to talk about treatment options. TMD represents a broad term to describe a variety of musculoskeletal conditions affecting the joint connecting the upper and lower jaw. Thus, seeing a dentist trained to treat orofacial pain and TMJ related pain is important. Of course, treatment plans differ depending on your diagnosis. Some common treatment modalities may include, but are not limited to, occlusal appliances, behavioral modification techniques, medications, trigger point injections and botox injections.

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