Just in front of our ears are joints that work like hinges to open and close the lower jaw. These “jaw joints” are called the Temporomandibular joints or TMJs (Temporo meaning in the vicinity of our temples, mandibular meaning the lower jaw or mandible).
Problems or damage to these joints can come about from several reasons:
- A “bad bite.” Teeth that do not fit together properly, throwing off the alignment of the jaw joints.
- Injury or accidents that have caused damage inside the joint.
- Clenching or grinding of the teeth (teeth are designed to chew food but not to chew each other) that damaged or inflamed the joints.
Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMD) is a group of joint disorders which can cause a wide range of symptoms that often are confused or misdiagnosed as other problems. Many problems associated with the teeth and jaws could be jaw joint problems in disguise.
Some of the possible symptoms of TMD are:
- Clicking or grating sound in the joint
- Headaches or neck aches
- Limited ability to open the mouth very wide
- Painful opening
- Ringing in the ear
- Locking when opening or closing
- Sore or tender teeth
- Wearing down of the teeth
- Multiple teeth having broken areas or lost fillings
The first step for handling TMD is a thorough examination to gather information. After the problem has been sorted out, the treatment plan would depend on what is needed. If someone was clenching or grinding, a small, essentially invisible protective guard could be made to cushion the teeth. If the bite is extremely off, sometimes tooth alignment is needed (perhaps orthodontics). Muscle relaxation techniques, gentle adjusting of the bite, or physical therapy are also some of the possible treatment options.
Our team of dentists are specifically trained to deal with many of the problems that lead to TMJ pain. If you are concerned or feel you may have jaw joint problems, call us for more information and to schedule an evaluation.
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