TMJ disorders affect the joints on both sides of your face, where your skull and jawbone meet. These disorders are often extremely painful and require treatment; most cases can be treated non-surgically.
The symptoms associated with TMJ include jaw joint pain, problems chewing food, pain in or near your ear and pain in the muscles of the face, temples, neck and even shoulders. People with TMJ may also have recurrent headaches, locking jaws and an uncomfortable or uneven bite. If you suffer from any of these symptoms, along with clicking of the jaw joint, you may have TMJ and should be evaluated by a dentist or orthodontist for a diagnosis and treatment plan.
TMJ disorders are often caused by damage to the disc inside the joint, which can be due to misaligned bite or a variety of other causes. If the disc in the jaw joints moves out of alignment, TMJ symptoms may also occur. People who grind or clinch their teeth while they sleep are at an increased risk of developing a TMJ disorder. Women who are between the ages of 30 and 50 are most likely to develop this problem. Those who were born with a deformation of the jaw joint or those who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome are also at increased risk of potential TMJ problems.
You dentist or orthodontist will perform a physical evaluation to determine if you have a TMJ disorder. It may also be necessary to obtain an X-ray, CT scan or MRI of your jaw joint to confirm the diagnosis. Symptoms sometimes disappear on their own with no treatment. If your symptoms are persistent or severe, your doctor may prescribe medications for the pain, muscle relaxation or reduction of inflammation. You may also require a bite splint (or “night guard”), which is typically worn at night to protect the joints, muscles and teeth during grinding activity. If you have missing teeth or a misaligned bite surface, orthodontic tooth movement may be necessary. TMJ surgery is only performed as a last resort, when all other treatment methods have failed to relieve your pain.