The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint between the temporal bone of the skull and the mandible or jaw. The TMJ can be easily felt just in front of the ear, when you open and close your mouth. It is a synovial joint, meaning it has a joint capsule and synovial fluid to lubricate and nourish the structures within the joint. We have a TMJ on each side of our jaw, allowing movements including opening of the mouth, side-to-side deviation of the jaw and protrusion and retraction of the jaw. The TMJ has a small articular disc, which is similar to the meniscus in the knee and can become problematic if stressed or injured. Normal TMJ function is critical for speech, chewing, swallowing, and dental health.
What is TMJ Dysfunction (TMD)?
TMJ dysfunction is the term given to an abnormally functioning TMJ or jaw. TMD can be caused by a number of factors including:
- Trauma to the jaw, e.g. whiplash or a heavy blow
- Grinding or clenching of the teeth
- Repetitive stress to the TMJ by excessive or abnormal chewing habits
- Poor posture
- Stiff neck (due to cervical spine injuries)
- Muscle imbalances.
What are the symptoms of TMJ Dysfunction (TMD)?
TMJ disorders can cause a variety of signs and symptoms. The most common symptoms of TMJ dysfunction are:
- Pain in the jaw, which is often exacerbated with chewing, yawning, speaking or opening the mouth wide. Pain can also be felt in the face, neck, ear, or head.
- Clicking, grinding or popping of the jaw, especially when opening and closing the mouth.
- Locking of the jaw, usually in an open position.
- Stiffness or inability to open the mouth wide.
- Feeling as though the teeth are not aligned properly.
What are some tips to reduce jaw pain?
- Modify your diet to exclude tough foods that require excessive chewing.
- Avoid chewing gum.
- Cut food into small bite size pieces.
- Include more soft foods in your diet.
- Avoid clicking your jaw.
- Applying an ice pack may be helpful.
- Reduce stress in your life if sleep is an issue.
- Avoid sleeping on your stomach.