temporomandibular joint disorder

What is TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint) Disorder?

Temporomandibular joint disorder is, aside from a mouthful to pronounce, a condition defined by pain or discomfort in the joint area of the jaw. More specifically, TMJ disorder involves pain in the hinges that connect your jaw to your skull. These joints allow your jaw to move up and down or side to side, enabling you to do everyday actions like talking, chewing food and yawning.

While TMJ disorder affects people in all walks of life, it is most common in women between the age of 20 and 40. It is estimated that TMJ disorder actually affects between 5 to 12% of the overall population at some point in their lives. When the issue becomes symptomatic, the disorder manifests itself in various ways, ranging from a clicking or popping when stretching the lower jaw, to general discomfort and mild pain.

The Four Components of TMJ Disorder

When a person has TMJ disorder, 4 areas can be involved:

  • Bone: the lower jawbone, and the skull around the ear area.
  • Ligaments: the tough, flexible, and fibrous tissues that connect the jaw to the skull and hold the joint together.
  • Muscle: the muscles that move the jaw.
  • Teeth: sometimes dental treatment (recent fillings, crowns, or even holding the mouth open for a cleaning) can lead to a flare up of a TMJ disorder.

What Causes TMJ Disorder?

There are several things that can cause TMJ disorder. One of the primary causes of TMJ disorder is grinding or clenching of the teeth. This puts unnecessary pressure on the jaw, which leads to discomfort. Stress can also be a factor that causes a person to clench and grind their teeth.

An injury caused by a traumatic event such as a car accident can also cause damage to the jaw, joints and muscles in your back or neck. Another common cause of TMJ disorder is arthritis in the jaw joint, which causes pain in that area when moving your lower mandible.

How to Treat TMJ Disorder

There are a number of dental-related treatments that can relieve the pain and discomfort associated with TMJ disorder. Davis Gribble Hollowwa takes a conservative approach to treating the issue.

  1. First, we conduct an initial evaluation, checking the patient’s jaw to see if TMJ disorder is the cause of their discomfort. We will do an exam to determine if the pain is coming from the bones, the joint, the muscles, the teeth, or any combination of the four.
  2. If it is determined that the patient does in fact suffer from the symptoms of TMJ disorder, the first line of defense is a splint for the jaw. The splint functions similarly to a mouth guard, while stabilizing the jaw and helping to reduce discomfort.
  3. For some acute cases, we may recommend wearing a device called an Aqualizer for one to two weeks. This is a fluid filled pouch–similar to a tiny waterbed–that fits inside the patient’s mouth to help stabilize the jaw in the same way a splint does. This can help decrease the pain and assist in diagnosis.
  4. Medication is also a common option for treating TMJ disorder. We may prescribe medicine such as an anti-inflammatory drug or muscle relaxant to help decrease inflammation or relax the muscles around the jaw.
  5. Finally, there’s heat therapy. The use of a laser that focuses heat directly onto the region of the jaw muscle, increasing blood flow to ease pain and tension.

TMJ disorder is pretty common among the adult population. If you are suffering from jaw pain that you think might be related to TMJ disorder, contact us to set up an appointment. We can create a treatment plan for TMJ disorder that can help reduce the pain, so you can get back to living your life.

Author Info

Dr. Connor Hollowwa

Dr. Connor Hollowwa is an Albuquerque native. He graduated from the Albuquerque Academy and went on to receive a BA from Rice University. His Doctorate of Dental Surgery is from Creighton University School of Dentistry. Before joining private practice he practiced at the state-of-the-art Isleta Health Center’s Dental Clinic, providing modern dental care for the members of the Pueblo of Isleta. In his free time he enjoys playing the piano, fly-fishing, golfing, and skiing.