TMJ is acute or chronic inflammation of the temporomandibular joint (the joint that connects the jaw to the skull.) Because the temporomandibular joint involves many elements: muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, connective tissue, and the teeth. TMJ can affect all of these elements, causing a wide range of symptoms:
- headaches, especially in the morning
- earaches, especially in the morning
- migraines, especially in the morning
- tinnitus (ringing sound in the ears)
- neck and shoulder pain
- cracking, popping or grating sounds when opening or closing the mouth
- jaw pain or tenderness
- trouble or discomfort biting or chewing
Anything that places undue strain on the temporomandibular joint may contribute to TMJ. These include, but are not limited to:
- bruxism (unconscious grinding or clenching of teeth)
- trauma such as a blow to the jaw
- degenerative joint disease such as osteoarthritis
- excessive nail biting or gum chewing
- misalignment of the jaw or teeth (bad bite)
The first step in treatment is thorough examination of the patient’s jaw and also their history to determine what’s causing TMJ. Treatment may include one or more different approaches depending on the cause:
- Orthodontic treatment – If the TMJ is thought to stem from a bad bite, orthodontic treatment to correct the misalignment may cure the TMJ, and bring other cosmetic and health benefits also.
- Splints (mouth guards) – if bruxism is causing TMJ, nighttime mouth guards can reduce clenching in some patients.
- Biofeedback – bruxism may also be treated with nighttime biofeedback using a headband that detects clenching and grinding and sounds an alarm that prompts the patient to stop clenching or grinding, without waking up.
- Relaxation therapies – bruxism may be caused or worsened by periods of high stress; TMJ treatment may include therapies to reduce or deal with stress.