Understanding TMJ Disorder
The lower jaw, or mandible, is one of the few bilateral bones in the body that connects on both sides, left and right, meaning there is no physical bony connection between the jaw and the temporal bone of the skull. Two joints, the TMJs, allow movement of the mandible. The position of the mandible in the joints depends in part on how the upper and lower teeth fit together when the mouth is closed – a relationship called occlusion. Malocclusion, when the jaw is improperly aligned, can contribute to the development of TMJ disorder. Heredity, injury, and stress also cause the condition.
The trigeminal nerve provides sensation to facial and chewing muscles, and it also mediates and controls pain distribution throughout the head and neck. Problems in the TMJs can affect the trigeminal nerve and result in pain in the jaws, mouth, head, neck, shoulders, extremities, back, and ears.
Causes of TMJ Disorder
Many factors can contribute to TMJ disorder, which is why it is such a common condition. In fact, some studies estimate that over 10 million Americans suffer with TMJ pain. Some of the most common factors contributing to TMJ disorder include:
- Misaligned bite – overbite, underbite, crossbite
- Misaligned or overcrowded teeth
- Misaligned jaw
- Teeth clenching or grinding
- Gaps between teeth or missing teeth, particularly the molars
- Poor posture
- Improper tongue position
- Yawning or other jaw stress
- Tooth or restoration fractures
- Injury or head trauma
- Tooth erosion at the gum line
Any of these issues can lead to uncomfortable symptoms.
Symptoms of TMJ Disorder
TMJ disorder is often misdiagnosed as other health conditions because the symptoms tend to be diverse, sporadic, and short-lived. An estimated 20 to 30% of the adult population is affected to some degree by TMJ disorder, but many sufferers are not aware of the source of their discomfort. It is important to be aware of your ailments and take note of when they occur. Symptoms of TMJ disorder include any combination of the following:
- Headaches, migraines
- Neck, shoulder, or back pain
- Facial pain, particularly around the eyes, ears, and mouth
- Tooth sensitivity
- Ringing in the ears
- Jaw clicking or popping
- Earaches or hearing loss
- Jaw pain, particularly when eating or speaking
- Limited jaw movement; locking jaw
- Tingling or numbness in the fingers
These diverse symptoms can lead to other health problems and further affect your quality of life. For example, chronic pain and headaches can affect concentration and impair job performance. Migraine sufferers are also three times more likely to suffer from clinical depression. As such, it is important to seek treatment as soon as symptoms arise.