Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMJ/TMD)
The term “TMJ” refers to the temporomandibular joint. TMJ dysfunction (TMD) can be a confusing set of issues, including limited opening, extreme pain, noisy joints, pain on chewing, headaches and neck aches. The jaw joint is often a victim of a condition but can cause many other problems. The TM joint is formed where the temporal bone of the skull meets the lower jaw, which is also referred to as the mandible. The term temporo, therefore, comes from the temporal bone and the term mandibular comes from the mandible bone. The TMJ is located in front of each ear so there are two TMJ’s (temporomandibular joints).
The TMJ is what is referred to as a sliding joint. It is used whenever you chew food, swallow and talk. The sliding aspect of this joint distributes the pressure placed upon it throughout the entire joint so it is not limited to just one location. In between the skull and the TMJ there is a disc composed mostly of cartilage. This disc behaves like a third bone in this joint, but it moves with some movements of the TMJ since it is attached to a muscle in the region.
The function of the jaw can be affected by many conditions that contribute to a TMJ disorder. If the system of bones, joints and muscles are not working together as they should be, then a TMJ disorder may develop.
TMJ disorders can be challenging to diagnose because the root cause of the problem needs to be determined. For example, a branch of the trigeminal nerve is the nerve to the TMJ. If this nerve is injured it may appear to be a case of neuralgia instead of a TMJ disorder because the symptoms are often similar. The series of ligaments holding the skull and jaw together can be damaged. If a ligament related to the TMJ is damaged then the disc of the TMJ, the jaw or both often become dislocated. Muscles connected to the bone may be another source of problems since injury to these muscles can cause pain in the TMJ or even movement of the jaw which is unusual.
Some common causes of this disorder include a poor bite, grinding of the teeth, a poor posture, and malformation of the skeletal system or even a traumatic event such as whiplash. It has been suggested that 25% of the population has one or more TMJ symptoms. The good news is that repair of this condition is possible due to the fact that the bone and soft tissues involved are living tissues.