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TMJ disorders

Definition

Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders (TMJ disorders) are problems that affect the chewing muscles and joints that connect your lower jaw to your skull.

Alternative Names

TMD; Temporomandibular joint disorders; Temporomandibular muscle disorders

Causes

There are two matching temporomandibular joints on each side of your head. They are located just in front of your ears. The abbreviation "TMJ" refers to the name of the joint but is often used to mean any disorders or symptoms of this region.

Many TMJ-related symptoms are caused by the effects of physical stress on the structures around the joint. These structures include:

For many people with temporomandibular joint disorders, the cause is unknown. Some causes given for this condition are not well proven. These include:

Poor posture can also be an important factor in TMJ symptoms. For example, holding the head forward while looking at a computer all day strains the muscles of the face and neck.

Other factors that may make TMJ symptoms worse include stress, poor diet, and lack of sleep.

Many people end up having "trigger points." These are contracted muscles in your jaw, head, and neck. Trigger points can refer pain to other areas, causing a headache, earache, or toothache.

Other possible causes of TMJ-related symptoms include arthritis, fractures, dislocations, and structural problems present since birth.

Symptoms

Symptoms associated with TMJ disorders may be:

Exams and Tests

You may need to see more than one medical specialist for your TMJ pain and symptoms. This may include a primary care provider, a dentist, or an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor, depending on your symptoms.

You will need a thorough exam that involves:

Sometimes, the results of the physical exam may appear normal.

Your doctor will also need to consider other conditions, such as infections, ear infections, or nerve-related problems and headaches that may be causing your symptoms.

Treatment

Simple, gentle therapies are recommended first.

Read as much as you can, as opinion varies widely on how to treat TMJ disorders. Get the opinions of several doctors. The good news is that most people eventually find something that helps.

Ask your doctor or dentist about medications you can use:

Mouth or bite guards, also called splints or appliances, have long been used to treat teeth grinding, clenching, and TMJ disorders.

If conservative treatments do not work, it does not automatically mean you need more aggressive treatment. Use caution when considering nonreversible treatment method, such as orthodontics or surgery that permanently changes your bite.

Reconstructive surgery of the jaw, or joint replacement, is rarely required. In fact, studies have shown that the results are often worse than before surgery.

Support Groups

You can get more information and find support groups through the TMJ Syndrome Association -- www.tmj.org

Outlook (Prognosis)

For many people, symptoms occur only sometimes and do not last long. They tend to go away in time with little or no treatment. Most cases can be successfully treated.

Some cases of pain go away on their own without treatment. TMJ-related pain may return again in the future. If the cause is nighttime clenching, treatment can be very tricky because it is a sleeping behavior that is hard to control.

Mouth splints are a common treatment approach for teeth grinding. While some splints may silence the grinding by providing a flat, even surface, they may not be as effective at reducing pain or stopping clenching. Splints may work well in the short-term, but could become less effective over time. Some splints can also cause bite changes if they are not fitted properly. This may cause a new problem.

Possible Complications

When to Contact a Medical Professional

See your health care provider right away if you are having trouble eating or opening your mouth. Keep in mind that many conditions can cause TMJ symptoms, from arthritis to whiplash injuries. Experts who are specially trained in facial pain can help diagnose and treat TMJ.

Prevention

Many of the home-care steps to treat TMJ problems can also help prevent the condition. These steps include:

References

Rotter BE. Temporomandibular joint disorders. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund LJ, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2010:chap 94.



Review Date: 2/25/2014
Reviewed By: Ilona Fotek, DMD, MS, Palm Beach Prosthodontics Dental Associates, West Palm Beach, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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