TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint)

TMJ stands for Temporomandibular Joint, which is located in front of the ears and attaches the lower jaw (mandible) to the temporal bones in your skull. The TMJ serves as a hinge for the jaw and moves together every time you use your mouth.

TMJ mouth closed TMJ mouth open
TMJ with mouth closed            TMJ with mouth open

Any disruption or disorder to these joints could lead to a medical and dental problem known as TMJ dysfunction.

There are a wide variety of signs and symptoms indicative of TMJ dysfunction. Typically, a TMJ dysfunction diagnosis is usually made after the patient complains of tenderness in the jaw muscles, multiple headaches, and/or dull, aching pain in the face, but symptoms may also include pain in the sinuses, ears, eyes, teeth, neck muscles, and shoulders. Clicking and grating in the jaw joints, inability to open or close the mouth freely, and difficulty in chewing and swallowing are also often present. All of these pain and dysfunction symptoms can be temporary, chronic (continuing for longer than six months), or intractable (never-ending).

TMJ dysfunction can have a variety of causes and is believed to result when the chewing muscles and jaw joints do not work together correctly.
 
Treatment of TMJ
In many cases, TMJ disorders can be successfully treated. If your TMJ dysfunction is mild and detected early, the first treatments your doctor will usually recommend for TMJ dysfunction are lifestyle and dietary changes. The purpose of these changes is to reduce the amount of injury to the joint and allow it to heal by breaking the cycle of pain and joint dysfunction. It may take 2 to 4 weeks for before you to feel some improvement in your symptoms.

TMJ graph

Reduce the Amount of Wear and Injury to the Joint

  • Concentrate on chewing food evenly on both sides of the mouth when eating.
  • Stop chewing gum or chewing tobacco.
  • Eat soft foods only. Avoid hard, crunchy, sticky or chewy foods.
  • Avoid clenching, gritting, and grinding your teeth.
  • Practice good posture. Hold your head up with your neck and shoulders in good alignment. Begin by standing against a wall with everything from your heels to the back of your head touching the wall. Then step away from the wall and balance a book on the top of your head. Try to walk without having the book fall. Practice this exercise at least twice a day.

Promote the Healing Process

  • Apply warm, moist heat to both TMJ’s for 30 minutes at least twice a day. 
  • Take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicine, such as ibuprofen, naprosyn, Motrin, or Advil, as recommended. You should not do this if you have a history or symptoms of stomach ulcers, a bleeding disorder, take a blood thinner like Coumadin, or if you are already taking an anti-inflammatory medicine. Check with your primary care doctor if you have questions about your medicines.  
    If these measures do not help, you may benefit from short-term physical therapy, a mouth guard to wear at night if you grind your teeth in your sleep, or evaluation by a dental professional for placement of an intraoral appliance (splint).