More than 10 million Americans suffer from chronic facial pain. Some common symptoms include pain in or around the ear, tenderness of the jaw, clicking or popping noises when opening the mouth, or even headaches and neck aches.
Two joints and several jaw muscles make it possible to open and close the mouth. They work together when you chew, speak, and swallow. These structures include muscles and ligaments, as well as the jaw bone, the mandible (lower jaw) with two joints, the TMJ’s.
What is TMJ’s?
The temporomandibular joint is one of the most complex joints in the body. Located on each side of the head, these joints work together and can make many different movements, including a combination of rotating and translocational (gliding) action, used when chewing and speaking. Several muscles help open and close the mouth. They control the lower jaw (mandible) as it moves forward, backward, and side-to-side. Both TM joints are involved in these movements. Each TM joint has a disc between the ball and socket (see diagram). The disc cushions the load while enabling the jaw to open widely and perform rotating and translocational movements. Any problem that prevents this complex system of muscles, ligaments, discs and bones from working together properly may result in a painful TMJ disorder.
What are the Causes of TMJ?
There are many causes of TMJ disorders and jaw joint pain, including:h
- Clenching and grinding – Habitual clenching and grinding of the teeth places extreme pressure and strain on the joints and is one of the most common causes of TMJ disorders. The added stress on the jaw joint can cause wear and tear of the cartilage disks, and may even cause the jaw joint to become dislocated.
- Arthritis – Arthritis can cause uncomfortable inflammation of the TMJ and may also result in swelling in the adjoining tissues, ligaments and muscles. Those with arthritis may experience difficulty opening and closing their mouth, as well as other painful TMJ symptoms.
- Cartilage wear and tear - The cartilage disks that pad the TMJ become worn or displaced, causing painful grinding of the jaw bone.
- Dislocated TMJ – Dislocation of the joint is indicated by popping and cracking noises when the jaw is opened or closed, and may negatively affect movement of the jaw and strain the musculature of the jaw, face, and neck.
- Misaligned bite – If the bite of the upper and lower teeth is not aligned properly, everyday jaw movement like chewing can take a toll on the TMJ and strain the surrounding musculature.