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What is TMJ Syndrome? `

Published: 16 July 2019 - Clinical Conditions

Woman with face pain

Experiencing facial pain, tightness, locking and clicking when opening and closing your mouth, head and neck aches and/or ringing in the ears? You could have a disorder of your temporomandibular joint (TMJD).

What is the temporomandibular joint?

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) lies just in front of your ear, where your jaw bone connects to your skull and is the most used joint in your body. It allows us to talk, chew, yawn, swallow and sneeze.

To find your TMJ, place your fingers in front of each ear and open your mouth. You will feel an indentation beneath your fingers. Within this joint lies an articular disc that allows smooth and controlled movement of this complex joint.

What is Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction?

Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction or TMJD is any condition that causes pain and dysfunction in the jaw joint and the muscles that control jaw movement.

It affects approximately 40 per cent of the population, with the greatest incidence in adults aged 20 to 40. Almost every patient with TMJD will have contributing factors arising from the neck, and about one third of people suffering from neck pain and headaches have the TMJ as a contributor to this pain. It is often the ‘missing link’ in curing headaches. 

TMJD can often lead to clinical depression. Think about it… if you had pain smiling, eating, talking and laughing, you’d feel pretty down.

Signs and symptoms of TMJD

Dull, aching pain is the most common symptom associated with TMJ disorders. Pain is usually felt in the jaw, but can also be felt in the face, ear, and teeth and may also radiate to the neck or shoulders. It is often made worse by chewing. Other symptoms include:

• Difficulty eating (especially chewy or hard foods) or your jaw hurts when you eat
• Jaw clicking or popping
• A grating sensation when chewing
• An uncomfortable or uneven bite
• Jaw locking
• Decreased ability to open the mouth or jaw hurts when you open mouth eg. when you yawn
• Headaches
• Ringing in the ears or a ‘fullness’ of hearing
• Deviation of the jaw on opening of the mouth

What causes disorders of the temporomandibular joint?

There are many potential causes of TMJ dysfunction. These include:

• Trauma to the joint via a direct blow
• By-product of dental intervention
• Excessive joint stress from chewing gum, biting finger nails, yawning, grinding teeth or jaw clenching
• Jaw abnormalities, missing teeth or poor bite (malocclusion)
• Resting the head in the hand
• TMJ arthritis
• Dislocation of the disc
• Postural abnormalities – this is the big one!
• Whiplash injury
• Lax ligaments
• Stress

How is TMJ Dysfunction treated?

After an examination and ruling out other conditions, your physiotherapist will provide advice on habit and diet modification to help ease your pain. If necessary, a stabilisation splint (or bite guard) can be fitted by your dentist.

Massage, heat/ice, acupuncture and mobilisations of the joint will also be considered to ease symptoms.Your physiotherapist will provide exercises to correct your posture to reduce stress on the neck and facial muscles and teach you how to set up your workstation or office space. Strengthening exercises will be prescribed to re-train faulty jaw movement patterns. We can also refer you to a psychologist who can help you deal with any stress or anxiety issues.

While TMJD can’t be ‘cured’, symptoms can be managed effectively in the long-term. Think you might suffer from TMJD? Contact your nearest Motion Health practice to book your free initial assessment.