TMJ | Delmarva Dental Services


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JAW JOINT PROBLEMS   Many people have jaw joint problems like any other joint in the body.  However the jaw joint is unique in two ways.  First it is the only place in the body where two joints work together,  with two sets of muscles. Also it is the most used joint in the body.  It moves every time you swallow, talk and eat.  It is estimated that you swallow once per minute or 2000 times a day, not including eating.  Of course talking  involves more jaw movement than swallowing and eating even more movement.  It is amazing that we don’t have more problems than we do.  In order to understand this complex system, we need to go over some simple anatomy.  First there is the jaw joint which is known the temperomandibular joint or TMJ for short.  It is called the joint because it is between two bones the temple bone (tempero) and the mandible (mandibular) or lower jaw bone. (see figure)   Slide7     How Does the TMJ Work? There are two joints and  muscles on each side of the head and neck which move the lower jaw. These are complicated movements that move the lower jaw open, close , side to side and forward. This requires both jaw joints to work together but not in exactly the same position.   Slide6   Problems such as headaches, jaw muscle aches,  joint aches, and limited opening could be what is known as Temperomandibular disorder or TMD.  There are various causes for TMD.   The most common cause is trauma or injury to the jaw joint.  This can happen after opening too wide when eating, sleeping on one side, a long dental procedure or after general anesthesia.  Most of the time the jaw joint and muscles heal by themselves.  Rest, ice after using  the joint and moist heat prior to moving the joint will help as well.  Over the counter anti  inflammatory  medications like aspirin or ibuprofen can also help relieve discomfort.  When pain lasts longer than a week professional help should be sought from a dentist or physical therapist.  Jaw exercises may be recommended. Another cause for TMD could be arthritis.  The jaw joint is no different than any other joint in your body when it comes to this and it should be treated by a physician or a rheumatologist. Abnormal habits that overly stress the muscles and jaw joint can cause TMD.  Habits such as grinding (bruxism), clenching, ice chewing, gum chewing and fingernail biting  create forces that are much greater than normal chewing forces.  A dentist can evaluate and make recommendations to modify these behaviors or make appliances such as biteguards to minimize their effect. An abnormal bite called malocclusion can be the sole cause or a contributing  factor with an abnormal habit of TMD.  There are numerous  factors that cause an uneven bite.   Some of which are: alterations to normal muscle, jaw and teeth alignment such as mouth breathing, thumb sucking, prolonged use of bottle, teething  rings or sipping cupsloss of and failure to replace teeth;  wisdom teeth; tooth wear; tooth erosion; gum disease;  and ill fitting dentures.  Regular and early visits to a dentist can prevent much of this from occurring.  Most of these conditions can be corrected by a dentist as well. Other treatment for TMD can also include using laser therapy for healing and pain management. Botox injections to muscles in spasm can provide quick relief.

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