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Many people have joint problems in the jaw, similarly to having other joint issues in the body. However, the jaw joint is unique in two ways. First, it is the only place in the body where two joints work together with two sets of muscles. Second, it is the most used joint in the body. It moves every time you swallow, talk, or eat. It is estimated that you swallow once per minute or 2,000 times per day, not including eating. Talking involves more jaw movement than swallowing, while eating requires the most effort.

How Does TMJ/TMD Work?

In order to understand this complex system, we need to go over some simple anatomy. First, there is the jaw joint which is known the temporomandibular joint or TMJ for short. It is called the joint because it is between two bones: the temporal bone (tempero) and the mandible (mandibular) or lower jaw bone. There are two joints and muscles on each side of the head and neck which move the lower jaw. These are complicated movements that move the lower jaw open, close, side to side, and forward. This requires both jaw joints to work together, but in different positions.

Problems such as headaches, jaw muscle aches, joint aches, and limited opening could be from TMJ or TMD. There are various causes for TMD. The most common cause is trauma or injury to the jaw joint. This can happen after opening too wide when eating, sleeping on one side, a long dental procedure, or after general anesthesia. Most of the time the jaw joint and muscles heal by themselves with the help of rest, icing the joint, or providing heat prior to moving the joint. Over the counter anti-inflammatory medications, like aspirin or ibuprofen can also help relieve discomfort. When pain lasts longer than one week, professional help should be sought from a dentist or physical therapist. Jaw exercises may be recommended.

What Causes TMJ/TMD?

Another cause for TMD could be arthritis. The jaw joint is no different than any other joint in your body, and it should be treated by a physician or a rheumatologist. Abnormal habits that overly stress the muscles and jaw joint can cause TMD. Harmful dental habits such as grinding (bruxism), clenching, ice chewing, gum chewing, and fingernail biting create forces that are much greater than chewing forces. A dentist can evaluate and make recommendations to modify these behaviors or make appliances such as bite guards to minimize their effect. An abnormal bite called malocclusion can be the sole cause or a contributing factor with an abnormal habit of TMD. There are numerous factors that cause an uneven bite such as alterations to normal muscle and jaw and teeth alignment. These may include mouth breathing, thumb sucking, prolonged use of the bottle, teething rings or sipping cups, loss of and failure to replace teeth, wisdom teeth, tooth wear, tooth erosion, gum disease, or ill-fitting dentures.

What Are TMJ Treatments?

Regular and early visits to a dentist can prevent much of this from occurring. Most of these conditions can be corrected by a dentist as well. Other treatment for TMD can also include using laser dentistry for healing and pain management or having BOTOX® injections for quick relief to muscle spasms.

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