It started as a feeling that your jaw would "catch" once in a while when you ate. But now, your jaw clicks regularly when you chew. Temporomandibular joint syndrome, or TMJ, is a painful condition where your jaw bones meet at the back of your mouth. The condition only gets worse so getting it seen by your dentist is important. Here is what causes TMJ and how it can be treated.
Bone Degeneration is the Cause
A slow wearing down of the bone surfaces where your upper and lower jaws meet causes TMJ. The cartilage that acts as a cushion between the two bones wears away and isn't replaced, so you now have bone rubbing against bone. Instead of a smooth movement in the jaw, the bones cause friction and the clicking sound in your jaw associated with TMJ. The friction creates inflammation which becomes painful each time you eat. Chewing becomes more painful as the condition advances.
Symptoms of TMJ
The wearing down of the cartilage occurs over a long time. You may become accustomed to subtle changes in your jaw without thinking much about them. You may get used to having your jaw catch and click until the pain makes you aware that something is really wrong. Some of the symptoms common to TMJ include:
- Pain in your neck and shoulder - The muscles in your upper neck and back of the mouth become sore due to the misalignment of the upper and lower jaws.
- Frequent headaches - The painful neck muscles irritate the nerves that travel up into your head and cause headaches in the back of your head and in your temples.
- Noisy jaw - The clicking sound of the two jaw bones rubbing against each other can be so loud that others around you can hear the noise.
- Ringing in the ears - Tinnitus is also possible due to the irritation of the nerves in the upper neck and spine.
Diagnosis of TMJ
X-rays of the temporomandibular joint will show where the cartilage has become thin. Your dentist will check to see how much the TMJ has put your bite out of alignment. The dentist can also do neurological tests to determine how much nerve damage has occurred in the joint.
This condition is not curable so treatment is focused on the symptoms and preventing it from getting worse. Your dentist will initially recommend non-invasive treatment. If that doesn't give you relief, an oral surgeon will talk with you about surgery on your jaw.
Some of the non-invasive approaches include:
- Transcutaneous electrical neural stimulation (TENS) This consists of electrodes placed over your jaw and a small pulsing electrical current sent into it. This helps the jaw and neck muscles to relax, relieving some of the headaches and neck pain.
- Oral appliances - These devices are worn over your teeth to improve your bite. A series of devices worn over a period of months may be used to slowly restore the proper alignment.
- Orthodontics - Braces are another way to improve your jaw alignment.
Surgical intervention includes:
- Jaw reconstruction - An oral surgeon will reshape where your jaw bones meet to minimize the rubbing of the bones together and the subsequent pain and inflammation.
For more information, talk to a specialist, such as those at Altoona Center For Oral Surgery & Maxillofacial Surgery.