By Dr. Matthew Weekes
July 31st, 2013 Edition
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) functions like a hinge between the upper stationary jaw and the movable lower jaw. If you place your finger about midway and slightly forward to your ears and open and close your jaw, you can feel this joint.
There is a cartilage disc that is situated in the joint and moves forward and backward as the lower jaw opens and closes.
If this disc moves out of its normal path it exerts pressure or stretching of the nerves in this area, causing pain. Also the muscles associated with opening, closing and chewing may go into spasm further intensifying the pain.
Some of the common causes of TMJ pain are abnormal growth of jaws, abnormal position of teeth (malocclusion), injury to the neck, jaw and face; clenching and grinding of teeth.
Symptoms may include clicking or popping of the jaw when opening and closing, headaches, neck aches or stiff neck muscles, lack of sound sleep. tired jaws and sore teeth when waking up, pain in either ear.
Depending on the complexity of the problem different health specialists may be involved, but the first line of defense should be an evaluation by a dentist, who may either treat or refer. Treatment may include the wearing of a simple appliance, braces, physiotherapy or surgery as a last resort.