Your temporomandibular joints are at one end of your jaw bone and your teeth are at the other. These joints attach your jaw to your skull and have muscles attached to them in order for the joints to move. A problem which prevents these bones, joints and muscles from working together is known as a TMJ dysfunction. This usually means that the joints are out of place and it may lead to pain, locking of the jaw or clicking of the joints.
The jaw joints are all ball and socket joints. The ball and sockets do not touch because a thin disc of cartilage which lies between them. This cartilage, which is held in place with muscle, acts as a cushion and allows the joint to move smoothly. Over time, the cartilage becomes increasingly compressed and torn, allowing the bony structures of the ball and socket to deteriorate due to the grinding wear on the joint and the loss of cushioning effect of the cartilage. This causes the misalignment of the jaw and the body attempts to realign it, using the musculature in the face, jaw and neck. As these muscles become fatigued, additional muscles in the shoulders and back attempt to help this condition, which become stressed themselves.
Treating TMJ Dysfunction
Treatment involves a few phases and begins with the restoration of the jaw to its regular position. Once the jaw is realigned, the position of the teeth has to be corrected by fitting an orthotic over the lower teeth. In some cases bite correction involves building crowns for the teeth, re-shaping certain teeth or orthodontics, in order to have the joints and muscles working together properly.
What to look out for:
Clicking or popping sounds when you open your mouth or chew
Painful jaw in the morning
Locking or sticking of the jaw
Tooth imprints on the sides of your tongue
Is your face asymmetrical, does your jaw deviate more to one side?
Painful jaw joints or teeth
Difficulty chewing and moving your jaw around
Clenching and grinding teeth