What is TMJ?
TMJ is the name of the temporomandibular joint, or jaw joint, which controls the function of the mandible, or lower jaw. When this jaw joint is not functioning properly for whatever reason, the dysfunction is called TMD or Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction.
Those suffering from TMD may have a wide range of symptoms or complaints depending on the nature of the root cause (etiology) and how long the dysfunction has been in place. These complaints often mimic other medical/dental afflictions; in fact, decades ago TMD was known as “The Great Imposter”. That is why the most essential attribute of a TMD doctor is his ability to differentially diagnose this condition.
Following is a brief example of the variety of complaints suffered by TMD victims:
- Head pain
- Facial pain
- Discomfort when chewing
- Ringing or other sounds in ears (Tinnitus)
- Ear pain (Otalgia)
- Ear congestion
- Pain or pressure in sinus areas or behind eyes
- Sore throat without obvious cause
- Neck, shoulder and back pain
- Restrictions in head and neck mobility
- 10 – Pain in front of the ears
- Clicking, popping, or other temporomandibular joint noises
- Gum and bone loss around teeth
- Visual and auditory changes
- Numbness and/or tingling in the arms or hands
- Sensitive teeth (unspecific to any one tooth)
- Limited opening of the jaws
- Clenching or grinding of the teeth (day or night)
- Awakening with jaws clenched
- Feeling fatigued after a full night’s sleep
- Sleep often interrupted without obvious cause
- Feeling that teeth don’t meet right when jaws are closed
- Easily fatigued without obvious cause
**Any stress will magnify these complaints.
If the jaw joints are not functioning properly, the patient should at least know the reasons for the associated dysfunctions and be aware of possible treatments available.
The more time that lapses from a trauma episode, the more the victim’s complaints will include symptoms and dysfunctions further removed from the head and neck.
Early effective diagnosis and treatment of the patient’s complaints should preclude this occurrence.
Patients suffering from cervical dysfunction should be aware that this medical problem is mutually provocative with TMD; if untreated, either will inevitably provoke the other over time.
Untreated Chronic TMD Will Lead To Other Dysfunctions.
Unresolved TMD usually leads to compromised function of soft tissues (muscles, tendons and ligaments) often far away from the TMJoint location. If both normal working and resting lengths of these soft tissues are affected, blood circulation is reduced. The lack of nutrient for these tissues results in premature fatiguing. The building up of waste products (mostly lactic acid) results in the development of “trigger points or trigger zones”. Trigger points or zones can refer pain which will be felt by the patient in sites far removed from the trigger points; consequently, a patient can feel head pain far removed from compromised neck muscles. Too often these “headaches” are misdiagnosed as “migraines”.
Trigger point injections for the above problem are out of date and totally ineffective in the long term; informed, intelligent, hands-on physical therapy is the treatment of choice.
Unresolved chronic TMD will lead to a “Chronic Pain Patient Profile, and ultimately to a “Chronic Pain Patient In Distress Profile”.