Temporomandibular joint disorders are problems affecting the jaw joint – usually pain or reduced movement of the joint. There are various causes but mostly it is not a serious condition, and often improves with simple treatments.
What are temporomandibular joint disorders?
Temporomandibular joint disorders are problems which affect the jaw joint.
What are the symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorders?
- Pain in the joint area or nearby. The pain is normally located just in front of the ear, and it may spread to other areas such as the cheek, the ear itself, and to the temple.
- Jaw movements may be reduced. This may be a general tight feeling or a sensation of the jaw getting stuck.
- Clicks or noises can be heard coming from the jaw joint when you chew with your mouth. These noises can be normal, so they are only relevant if you have pain or reduced movement.
- Because the ear is very close to the jaw joint, some people get ear symptoms such as noise in the ear, pain in the ear region.
How common are temporomandibular joint disorders?
They are fairly common. About 1 in 10 people have symptoms in the jaw joint at some time in their lives. The severity of symptoms vary from patient to patient.
What causes temporomandibular joint disorders?
In general, TMJ disorders are thought to have many causes. These factors can be grouped into two types:
Problems with the muscles may be caused by:
- Overactivity of the jaw muscles. This can occur if you clench your jaw a lot during sleep, which is quite common.
- Increased sensitivity to pain. We don’t know why this happens, but it may be linked to stress.
Problems in the joint may be caused by:
- Wear and tear to the inside of the joint. Sometimes this is due to a type of arthritis called osteoarthritis. This may affect older rather than younger people.
- Certain types of arthritis. For example, rheumatoid arthritis and gout are both types of arthritis which may affect various joints in the body, and they can sometimes affect the jaw joint.
- Injury to the TMJ or to its cartilage disc can cause TMJ pain.
What is the treatment for temporomandibular joint disorders?
Most problems in the jaw joint can be helped with simple treatments such as painkillers and advice on how to rest the joint. There are various treatments which are often used in combination:
Resting the jaw joint
You can rest the joint by eating soft food and not using chewing gum. Also, avoid opening the mouth very wide – so don’t do too much singing, and try not to yawn too widely. Massaging the muscles and applying warmth can help.
Splints or bite guards are sometimes suggested. These cover the teeth at night to reduce clenching of the jaw, and can be made by dentists. Some people find them helpful.
Painkillers such as paracetamol, ibuprofen or codeine can help. If these are not enough, muscle relaxants or a small dose of a medicine called a tricyclic antidepressant can give added pain relief.
Physiotherapy treatments, such as ultrasound and gentle jaw exercises, can be helpful.