The Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) is the joint that connects the temporal bone of the skull to the lower jaw (mandible). This joint is a complex system made of bones, ligaments, muscles, nerves, vessels, and cartilage. All of these function together in harmony in a healthy TMJ. The joint goes through changes to allow the patient to load (chew with pressure), open wide (during yawning), and speak comfortably. When the joint is unhealthy, patients can experience noises (such as clicking, grinding or popping), feel like the jaw is catching or locking, or can suffer from pain or discomfort in or around the TMJ. Patients with unhealthy joint systems can also most commonly experience earaches, headaches, or neck or shoulder pain.
The dentists on our team take special care to listen to our patients about the symptoms they may be experiencing, examine the radiograph of the joint area, and perform intra- and extra-oral exams to accurately diagnose any disfunction of the TMJ. These TMJ Disorders (TMDs) can be due to problems in the bones, nerves, muscles, discs, or a combination of the above areas of the joint. A thorough evaluation is necessary for proper treatment and relief.
There are many reasons why a patient may have a disorder in the TMJ. Patients may actually have habits that can cause or contribute to their TMD, such as nighttime clenching or grinding (bruxing). Patients may also be missing some or all of their back teeth which can lead to a change in their bite relationship and an eventual disorder in the joint that has lost the tooth support. Traumatic events, such as automobile accidents or sports injuries can also cause an unhealthy change in the joint.
Our dentists decide the ideal treatment for patients based upon the evaluation. In most cases, the therapy consists of a custom made TMJ splint to stabilize or reposition the joint, referring the patient to a deep tissue specialist who has knowledge of the TMJ specifically, or a combined approach. Rarely, patients are referred to an Oral Surgeon for an evaluation, but these are only for the most severe cases.