What Is TMJ and Do I Have It?

Characterized by pain, difficulty chewing, ear aches, and migraines, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) is sometimes misdiagnosed as ear problems, though it has become a common enough diagnosis that the disorder is rarely ruled out and is usually accurately diagnosed soon after. Temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMJ, is sometimes referred to as TMD. It is the chronic and acute inflammation of the temporomandibular joint which connects the mandible to the skull. The muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, bones, and connective tissues in and around the affected joint are all susceptible to pain, so the descriptions of offending pains vary from patient to patient. Neck and shoulder pain are prevalent due to proximity, and dizziness is associated as well, perhaps because of the ache radiating to the ears. 

TMJ is caused by a myriad of things. Excessive gum chewing and nail biting have been known to be related to the disorder, in which case the offending activities should be addressed before any further serious action such as surgery or even prescription pain medications are tried. Bruxism, akin to teeth grinding and mouth clenching, is a treatable contributor to the disorder, and misalignment of the spine has been known to offend as well. Traumas such as car accidents or even severe emotional traumas that play out physically in the body contribute as well. Because of the location of the pain, chiropractors, dentists, and even neuro- specialists have been known to treat temporomandibular joint disorder. 

Treatment, as previously mentioned, can begin as simply as prescribed cessation of gum chewing, eating ice, hard candy consumption, and nail biting. These in conjunction with over the counter pain medication will be the first line of defense. Should these simply attempts not be successful, a patient may undergo manual bite adjustment, as the lack of an overbite or the presence of an underbite can contribute to TMJ. Nighttime biofeedback devices and/or mandibular repositioning splints are also sometimes used for treatment. Joint irrigation, surgical jaw repositioning, and jaw replacement implants are among the most invasive and last resort treatments but should not be avoided in the event that prior attempts for relief do not work.

Chiropractors have had much success in healing the disorder, operating on the understanding that misalignments in the spine cause miscommunication between the brain and the rest of the body, and these professionals should not be overlooked as an option for alleviation and/or healing of temporomandibular joint disorder. 

Even as the pain and associated problems are healed and or solved, patients will still need to practice proactive measures which usually include limitations in gum, candy, or other things that may cause offense to the jaw.