Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) are problems affecting the jaw joint–usually pain or reduced movement of the joint, there are various causes but generally it is not a serious condition and often improves with simple treatments.

Our Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) has many functions, biting, chewing, swallowing and talking. The TMJ forms a relationship with the Stomatognathic system (SGS). This comprises the cranial, spinal, and pelvic structures and is considered a closed loop feedback. Imbalances in the TMJ can also be found to influence the spinal and pelvic area and the cranial, hormonal and neurological areas. In most cases TMD can be effectively treated using soft tissue techniques such as the Bowen Technique. The effects on the body of dysfunctional TMJ/SGS should not be underestimated, even though facial pain and head pain syndromes are the more common representations and symptoms many other conditions can be effectively treated by correcting the TMJ. Did you know that an imbalanced TMJ may cause symptoms such as headaches, migraines, shoulder and neck pain, pelvic and hip pain, sciatica, knee and ankle pain as well?

TMJ disorders are problems which affect the jaw joint. The jaw joint is located just in front of the ear, and it joins the jawbone (mandible) to the skull near to the temple. The jaw joint is also called the ‘temporomandibular joint’. Problems affecting this joint are usually known as TMJ disorders. However, there are various other medical terms for this condition–for example, TMJ dysfunction, TMJ pain and Myofascial pain disorder

What are the symptoms of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders?

The pain can be located just in front of the ear and it may spread to the cheek, the ear itself and the temple and Jaw movements may be reduced. This may be a general tight feeling or a sensation of the jaw getting stuck. Rarely, the jaw may become ‘locked’, causing difficulty in opening or closing the mouth. 

The pain can also be located in the joint area, just in front of the ear and it may spread to the cheek, the ear itself and the temple, the jaw movements may also be reduced. The pain may feel like a general tight feeling or a sensation of the jaw getting stuck. Rarely, the jaw may become ‘locked’, causing difficulty in opening or closing the mouth.

Clicks or noises can sometimes be heard coming from the jaw joint when you chew or move your mouth. These noises can be normal, so they are only relevant if you have other symptoms in the joint, such as pain or reduced movement because the ear is very close to the jaw joint, some people develop ear symptoms such as Noise in the ear, Sensitivity to sound and Dizziness (vertigo).

How common are temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders?

They are fairly common. About 1 in 4 people have symptoms in the jaw joint at some time in their lives. Of these people, only about 1 in 20 consult a doctor for this problem.

What causes temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders?

TMJ disorders are thought to have a ‘multifactorial’ cause, meaning that there are usually several factors contributing to the cause. This can occur if you clench or grind your jaw a lot during sleep, (also called bruxism) which is common. People also clench their jaw during the day if they are feeling tense, anxious or concentrating, it can also be an overuse of the jaw muscles, such as habitually chewing gum, or biting nails. Rarely, other conditions make the jaw muscles overactive: for example, there are some rare kinds of movement disorders (called orofacial dystonia’s) which cause excessive jaw clenching and increased sensitivity to pain. Wear and tear to the inside of the joint: for example, wear and tear to the cartilage. Sometimes this is because of an arthritis called osteoarthritis, though this problem affects older rather than younger people. Arthritis means inflammation in a joint, there are different kinds of arthritis: for example, rheumatoid arthritis and gout are both types of arthritis which may affect various joints in the body, and they can sometimes affect the jaw joint. 

How are temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders diagnosed and what is the treatment for temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders?

Most problems in the jaw joint can be helped with simple treatments such as painkillers and advice on how to rest the joint. There are various treatments which are often used in combination. Improving posture can help–for instance, when sitting in front of a computer for a long time. Other treatments are relaxation and stress-reducing therapies–presumably because people clench their jaw when they are stressed, or because stress makes pain worse. Splints or bite guards / retainers are sometimes suggested, these cover the teeth at night to reduce clenching and grinding of the jaw and can be made by dentists. There is no definite evidence from research trials they work but some people find them helpful.