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Temporomandibular Joint Disorders

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The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint where the lower jaw attaches to the skull, just in front of the ear. The muscles of mastication (chewing muscles) cradle the jaw and the TMJ allows the jaw to move forward, sideways, open and closed. The TMJ works optimally when the lower jaw and its joints (both left and right) are synchronized during movement.

Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD) may occur when the jaw twists during opening, closing, or side-to-side movements. These movements affect the jaw joint and the muscles that control chewing. TMD affects more then twice as many women as men. It is the most common, chronic, non-dental related orofacial pain. Most experts suggest that certain tasks, either mental or physical, cause or aggravate TMD, such as strenuous physical tasks or stressful situations. Excessive, repetitive chewing /grinding habits (bruxism) tire the musculature and lead to symptoms such as pain on one or both sides of the face, head, neck, upper back or jaw. Symptoms frequently begin after a traumatic injury to the mouth or jaw. Abnormal function of the joint can also lead to worn or sensitive teeth, traumatized soft tissues, pain on chewing and muscle soreness.

Typical TMD symptoms include:

  • Earache without an ear infection
  • Jaw pain that is more prevalent in morning or late afternoon
  • Jaw pain when you chew, bite or open wide (yawning)
  • Clicking and popping while opening or closing your mouth
  • Difficulty opening or closing your mouth
  • Locked or stiff jaw while speaking, eating or yawning
  • Sensitive teeth when no dental problems can be found

Treatment of TMD, in most cases, involves resting and /or balancing the joint. If symptoms occur only once in a great while, treatment is generally kept as simple as possible such as applying warm, moist compresses to the aching area, limiting excessive/repetitive chewing and taking anti-inflammatory pain relievers. If problems are more frequent, Dr. Mahlin may prescribe a mouthguard to re position the jaw and relieve stress on the muscles and teeth.

TMD is often a cyclical condition, recurring during times of stress. A patient should be active in their treatment by being aware of the causes of their jaw problems. Make routine visits so your TMD can be monitored on a regular basis.

If you have any questions about Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, Dr. Mahlin will be happy to discuss this with you.

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