Dr. Richard Mansour

Chronic pain in the jaw, face, head, neck or shoulders may be caused by a temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder

What is a TMJ Disorder?
Symptoms of TMJ Disorder
How does a TMJ Disorder occur?
Managing and Treating TMJ Disorder
How Your Dentist Can Help

What is a TMJ Disorder - Understanding how muscle, bone or other tissue may be a cause.

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the name of the joint located on either side of your head, just in front of your ears. These joints connect your mandible (jawbone) to your temporal bone (skull). The TMJ, which can rotate and move forward, backward and side to side. It is considered one of the most complex joints in the body. This joint, in combination with other muscles and ligaments, lets you chew, swallow, speak and yawn. When you have a problem with the muscle, bone or other tissue in the area in and around the TMJ, you may have a TMJ Disorder.

Symptoms of TMJ Disorder – How can I tell if I may have a TMD?

Signs or symptoms of TMDs include:

  • pain and tenderness in or around the ear, the jaw joint, or the muscles of the jaw, face or temples.
  • problems opening or closing your mouth, and a clicking, popping, crunching or grinding noise when you chew, yawn or open your mouth.
  • TMDs may be linked with neck pain and headaches.
  • Partial or full dentures that are not the right fit.
  • Certain habits such as fingernail biting and pen or pencil biting.

If you have any of these symptoms or factors, tell your dentist and your doctor.

Dr. Richard Mansour

How Does a TMJ Disorder Occur?

In most cases, TMJ Disorders are caused by a combination of factors like jaw injuries and joint disease, such as arthritis. It is believed that tooth clenching or grinding (Bruxism) and head or neck muscle tension may make TMJ Disorder symptoms worse. This means stress is also a possible factor. However, more research is required to determine if stress causes a TMJ Disorder or if stress is a result of the pain and discomfort from a TMJ Disorder.

Management and Treating of TMDs

Most patients with a TMJ Disorder get better by themselves without any treatment. A cold or warm compress to your jaw and gentle massage your jaw muscles can help ease sore jaw muscles. Choosing softer foods, cut food into small pieces, and avoiding hard, chewy or sticky foods also helps. Try not to open your mouth too wide, even when you yawn.

Most importantly, be mindful of relaxing your jaw muscles. When you are relaxed, your teeth should be slightly apart, and your tongue should rest on the floor of your mouth with your lips barely touching or slightly apart. There should be a slight space between your upper and lower teeth except during chewing, speaking, or swallowing.

Dr. Richard Mansour

How Your Dentist Can Help

After a thorough examination and, if needed, appropriate x-rays, your dentist may suggest a plan to treat your TMJ Disorder. This treatment plan may include relaxation techniques, a referral to a physiotherapist, a chiropractor or a behavioural therapist to help you ease muscle pain. Other treatment options may include medicine for pain, inflammation or tense muscles. If getting a good night’s sleep is a problem, a variety of approaches to improve sleep may be used.

Your dentist may suggest wearing a night guard, also called an occlusal splint. It is made of clear plastic and fits over the biting surfaces of the teeth of one jaw so that you bite against the splint rather than your teeth. This often helps your jaw joints and muscles to relax.

Your dentist may also refer you to a dental specialist with extra training in TMJ Disorders. This could be a specialist in oral medicine or orofacial pain, an oral surgeon, an orthodontist, a periodontist or a prosthodontist. If your dentist refers you to a dental specialist, he or she will explain what that specialist does.

Surgery is rarely used to treat TMJ Disorders. However, if none of the other treatments have worked, or if it is very hard to open your jaw, you may need surgery. If you need surgery, your dentist will refer you to an oral and maxillofacial surgeon with expertise in temporomandibular joint surgery.