What is a TMJ disorder or TMD?
The words “temporomandibular joint,” “jaw joint,” and “TMJ” all mean the same thing. You can feel this joint move if you put your finger in front of your ear and open and close your mouth. Temporomandibular disorder (commonly called TMJD, or just TMD) is any disorder affecting this joint.
Common symptoms of TMD include:
- headaches on the side of the head
- facial pain
- jaw pain
- ear pain, pressure, ringing in the ears, or hearing loss
- jaw clicking or popping
- difficult or painful chewing
- jaw locking in an open or closed position
- dizziness or nausea
The TMJ contains a disc that cushions and lubricates the joint. With healthy jaw movement, the disc stays between the bones no matter what you do with your jaw—eat, talk, swallow, smile, or stick out your chin.
Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, the alignment of the joint can be disrupted: the disc goes out of place, and the bony structures in the joint impinge on the delicate tissues directly in front of the ear. This is known as internal derangement of the joint.
In other cases, a TMJ disorder may originate with the muscles, meaning that joint problems are an effect rather than the cause of the problem. The jaw muscles extending into the cheeks and over the side of the head respond and tighten up to protect the joint. This muscle tension produces symptoms such as headaches on one or both sides of the head, pain from the cheekbone down to the jaw, and eye pain. Some sufferers even report that their hair hurts.
Putting up with these disorders puts you at risk of progressive arthritic changes inside the jaw joints. Early treatment is highly recommended to avoid long-term damage.
TMD has many potential causes, including childhood or sports injuries to the jaw; occupational injuries that involve a blow to the jaw; motor vehicle accidents, especially those involving a neck injury; chronic clenching or grinding of the teeth, joint hypermobility, disruption in proper cranial and jaw growth patterns, or a bad bite. Often there are multiple factors, creating micro-traumas to the joints and muscles which may not cause issues for years. Sleep related breathing disorders can also contribute to TMD.