Most people have heard of the term TMJ and use it to refer to pain in the jaw area. TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint, which is the “hinge” that connects your jaw to your skull. When a person experiences pain or tenderness in the jaw area, they are actually suffering from what is known as temporomandibular disorder, or TMD, but most people are more familiar with the term TMJ.
It’s TMJ Awareness Month – did you even know there was such a thing? There is, and perhaps the reason it exists is many individuals suffer from TMD without even realizing it, hence the need for greater awareness. For many, TMD can cause a host of issues and painful symptoms – some of which may seem completely unrelated. Yet, when you consider what your TMJ is, it’s understandable the potential negative impact it can have on your comfort.
What is the TMJ Again?
To understand the critical role TMJ plays in one’s body, let’s consider its purpose. The TMJ is a hinge connecting your jawbone, or mandible, to your skull. Specifically, the TMJ connects with your temporal bone, which is located on the lower side of your skull. In between the jawbone and skull there is a disc made of cartilage that is held in place by facial ligaments and muscles. That disc acts as a cushion to keep the bones from rubbing against each other when you move your jaw to talk, chew, swallow, or yawn. The whole system is somewhat similar to the ball and socket joints in your body, like your shoulder, for instance. When everything functions correctly, the muscles and ligaments around the jawbone work together to make jaw movement smooth and pain-free.
When the area is affected by pain or tenderness, it is suffering from a dysfunction that also involves the surrounding facial tissues. TMD can cause severe pain when you’re trying to open your mouth wide and can even cause the jaw to catch or lock in the open or closed position. The pain or tenderness that you feel in your jaw area can occur at the joint in front of the ear, or in the head, neck, and shoulders. Sometimes the pain only occurs when the jaw is used, sometimes the pain lingers.
Symptoms that may indicate TMD include:
- pain when chewing
- jaw sounds: popping, clicking, grating, or crepitus
- bruxism: clenching and grinding
- pain or numbness in lower jaw
- difficulty opening the mouth
- frequent migraines/headaches
- ear pain, congestion, ringing
- facial pain
- neck/back/shoulder pain
I personally suffered at one point due to TMD and spent years trying to unsuccessfully address symptoms without understanding the root cause. Since discovering the source, I’ve dedicated myself to treating it and helping patients restore comfort to their lives, free from pain. Learn more about TMJ/TMD and the treatment options available by visiting our practice site here.