Temporomandibular joint disorder, also known as TMJ or TMD, is a far more common problem than many people realise. The temporomandibular joint connects the lower jaw to the base of the skull.
Problems with your bite – how your jaws meet together – can cause discomfort and pain in this joint and the associated muscles. Conditions such as migraines and headaches, facial pain, neck, shoulder and backache can all be caused by TMJ disorder, although the majority of people might not think that their dentist can help them with these issues.
A common symptom of TMJ disorder is clenching your teeth during the day and grinding them at night – also known as bruxism. This can lead to your teeth becoming worn, and if this happens in conjunction with migraines, shoulder pain and the like then it may be worth turning to your dentist for help.
Common symptoms of TMJ disorder
- Bruxism – grinding or clenching your teeth
- Clicking or popping noises when you chew
- Difficulty opening your mouth wide
- Pain in the muscles around the jaw
- Pain in front of the ear, spreading to the temple, cheek or ear itself
- Headache or migraine
- Back-, neck- or shoulder ache
- Pain or buzzing in the ear
- Disturbed sleep
The first thing your dentist will do is to try to establish the cause of your TMJ disorder and associated discomfort. The condition has a wide range of causes, including stress, injury, changes to your bite (poorly fitted dentures or dental crowns, for example), and as part of a wider medical condition such as fibromyalgia. Sometimes, the condition has no obvious cause.
Treatment will depend on the cause. One of the most common treatments is to wear a mouthguard at night. These hard plastic guards are similar to sports mouthguards and prevent the surfaces of your teeth from grinding together while you sleep. Your mouthguard will be made to fit your teeth exactly for maximum comfort.