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The temporomandibular joint connects the lower jaw, called the mandible, to the bone at the side of the head—the temporal bone. If you place your fingers just in front of your ears and open your mouth, you can feel the joints. Because these joints are flexible, the jaw can move smoothly up and down and side to side, enabling us to talk, chew and yawn. Muscles attached to and surrounding the jaw joint control its position and movement.
Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders, commonly called "TMJ," are a group of conditions that cause pain and dysfunction in the jaw joint and muscles that control jaw movement. Some estimates suggest that TMJ disorders affect over 10 million Americans. The condition appear to be more common in women than men.
- Pain in the chewing muscles and/or jaw joint
- jaw muscle stiffness
- Limited movement or locking of the jaw
- Painful clicking, popping or grating when opening mouth
- Popping or grating in the jaw joint when opening or closing the mouth
- A change in the way the upper and lower teeth fit together.
Trauma to the jaw or temporomandibular joint plays a role in some TMJ disorders. But for most jaw joint and muscle problems, scientists don’t know the causes. For many people, symptoms seem to start without obvious reason. Research disputes the popular belief that a bad bite or orthodontic braces can trigger TMJ disorders.
Most common jaw joint and muscle problems are temporary and do not get worse. Simple treatment is all that is usually needed to relieve discomfort.
For temporary reduction of pain:
- Eat soft foods
- Apply ice packs
- Learn techniques for relaxing and reducing stress
- Avoid extreme jaw movements like wide yawns and loud sining
- Do not chew gum
An over-the-counter pain medicines or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen may be used no a short-term basis.
A stabilization splint, also called bite or night guard, is a plastic oral appliance that fits over the upper or lower teeth. A stabilization splint is the most widely used treatments for TMJ disorders, may be recommended by your dentist.