What Is TMJ?

You can find the temporomandibular joints on either side of your head. Touch your fingers to the sides of your head just in front of your jaw line. Now open and close your mouth. You should feel the joint there. That’s the temporomandibular joint. It connects your jaw (mandible) to the temporal bone in your skull. Although scientists prefer to use the acronym TMJ for the joint and TMD or TMJD for the disorders, most people use TMJ as an abbreviation for the disorder.

In the past, we thought of TMJ as a single condition, but now we know it’s an umbrella term that describes several different types of jaw problems. We don’t know exactly how many kinds there are, but the three types with the most acceptance are:

  • Myofascial pain disorder (MPD)
  • Disc displacement (DD)
  • Degenerative joint disease (DJD)

People can have all three types at the same time.

MPD is the most common type of TMJ. It occurs when you experience pain in the muscles of your jaw and/or the connective tissue surrounding your muscles.

DD, also called internal derangement of the joint, is when the cushioning disc that separates the two bones of the joint moves out of place.

DJD is when the joint is affected by osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or another degenerative condition that causes the joint to break down.

What Causes TMJ?

There are many potential causes of TMJ. Some of the commonly recognized causes include:

  • Congenital and/or developmental bite problems
  • Muscle strain
  • Jaw imbalance
  • Bruxism (teeth clenching and grinding)
  • Trauma, including whiplash

Bite problems describe when your teeth don’t fit together properly. Instead of having smooth motion and function, the jaw muscles struggle to put the jaw in a restful position. This can lead to jaw imbalance, bruxism, and other potential causes of TMJ, as well as TMJ itself.

Muscle strain occurs when your jaw muscles work too hard. Bruxism is a common source of jaw muscle strain. However, eating too much hard food or eating food that is too wide for  your mouth can also lead to muscle strain.

Jaw imbalance can be caused by bite problems, or it can develop independently. Sometimes bruxism damages teeth on one side of the jaw, leading to jaw imbalance.

Bruxism is teeth clenching and grinding. It can both cause TMJ and be a TMJ symptom. Bruxism can happen during the day when you’re awake, or at night when you’re asleep. Stress, smoking, alcohol, caffeine, and certain medications can all increase your risk of bruxism.

Jaw trauma can cause TMJ by displacing the disc from your jaw joint or causing injury to the joint or muscles. Jaw trauma isn’t just a blow to the jaw. It includes when you get whiplash (as in a car accident) without hitting your jaw.

We’re not entirely sure why some people with these conditions develop numerous long-term symptoms, while others simply recover.

Symptoms

In part because TMJ is not just one condition, but several, it can produce many different symptoms. Some symptoms of TMJ include:

We often call TMJ “The Great Imposter” because its wide-ranging symptoms can lead to it being misdiagnosed as other conditions. Doctors who don’t know much about TMJ are especially prone to misdiagnosing the condition. If  you have several of the above symptoms and your current treatment isn’t providing relief, it’s possible you have TMJ, no matter what your doctor has diagnosed. It’s time to talk to a dentist about TMJ.

Treatment

TMJ treatment begins with successful diagnosis. TMJ dentist Dr. Richard Klein will perform a comprehensive examination of your jaw system. This will likely include touching your jaw. It may also include different types of imaging, including ultrasound, MRI, x-rays, and/or CT scans. Dr. Klein will ask you about your medical history to help him understand your experiences, symptoms, and previous treatments.

Seeking Care in Detroit?

If you suspect that you have TMJ and are looking for effective treatment, let the Michigan Head and Neck Institute help. Please call (586) 573-0438 or use our online form today to schedule an appointment at our office in Warren, MI.