All About TMJ

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is like a hinge that slides and connects the jawbone to the skull. There is a TMJ joint on each side of the jaw. The bones that work in conjunction with the temporomandibular joint are covered with cartilage and a small shock-absorbing disk separates these bones from the joint itself, to ensure the movements of the jaw remain smooth. However, if this disk moves out of alignment or erodes, TMJ syndrome (aka TMD) can result. TMJ syndrome (or TMD) is the term used to refer to disorders affecting the temporomandibular joints and the muscles responsible for controlling the movement of the jaw.

How Common is TMJ Syndrome?

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, women seem to be more susceptible to TMJ disorders than men are. While the actual number of Americans who have TMJ is unknown, estimates suggest more than 10 million Americans are affected with this condition.

Are There Risk Factors for Developing TMJ?

Yes, there are several factors that increase an individual’s likelihood of developing TMJ syndrome, including:

  • being female;
  • osteoarthritis;
  • bruxism, which is a chronic (long-term) grinding or clenching of the teeth (it is important to note that bruxism and TMJ do not necessarily go hand-and-hand);
  • certain diseases that affect the connective tissue (i.e., systemic lupus erythematosus, scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.);
  • a genetic disposition for certain inherited conditions;
  • an injury to the neck (whiplash); and/or
  • a jaw injury.

What Are the Symptoms of TMJ Syndrome?

The signs and symptoms associated with these disorders can include:

  • an aching in and around the ear;
  • tenderness or pain in the jaw;
  • an aching-type pain in the face;
  • difficulty chewing;
  • pain in the temporomandibular joint(s);
  • pain while chewing;
  • a clicking sound and/or odd sensation upon opening the mouth or chewing; as well as
  • difficulty opening and/or closing the mouth.

If you have TMJ, you will most likely experience pain and/or limited movement when your jaw clicks.

Diagnosing Temporomandibular Joint Disorders

Although there is not a standard test available for diagnosing TMJ, identifying these disorders involves collecting information related to your symptoms, as well as your medical and dental history. Furthermore, at Strickland Orthodontics, a thorough examination of the affected areas will be performed: These areas typically include the neck, head, jaw and face. Sometimes, imaging studies will be recommended.

Categorizing TMJ Syndrome

Researchers categorize temporomandibular joint syndrome using three main categories:

  1. Arthritis – referring to a group of inflammatory/degenerative joint disorders.
  2. Myofascial Pain – pain or discomfort in the muscles responsible for controlling the function of the jaw.
  3. Internal Derangement – a dislocated jaw, injury to the condyle (which is the round part of the bone forming the joint) or a displaced disk.

There are a variety of other health problems that tend to co-exist with temporomandibular joint disorders.

These problems include:

  • Sleep Disturbances/Disorders – insomnia, non-24 sleep wake disorder, sleep-related movement disorders (i.e., restless leg syndrome), etc.
  • Fibromyalgia – this is a painful condition that affects the soft tissues and muscles throughout the body.
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – characterized by exhaustion, pain and sleep abnormalities that are made worse with exertion.

An individual may have one or more of these conditions.

When to Seek Medical Attention

You should contact Strickland Orthodontics right away if you are finding it difficult to open and/or close your jaw all the way or you are experiencing constant tenderness, or pain in your jaw.

Treating TMJ Disorders

If the cause of your TMJ is structural, Dr. H.L. Strickland and Dr. Stephen Strickland can correct any teeth malformations that are aggravating or causing the condition. If the problem is not structural, the discomfort and pain associated with these disorders can usually be relieved through nonsurgical treatments and/or self-managed care. Nonsurgical treatments may include medications and/or stabilization splints. Self-managed care may include eating soft foods, using ice packs as well as relaxing the jaw muscles using specialized techniques. Surgical intervention is only considered if the more conservative measures fail.

Dr. H.L. Strickland and Dr. Stephen Strickland offer individuals residing in Alabama five convenient locations to choose from. Whether you need clear braces, traditional braces, Invisalign™ , an auxiliary appliance, soft tissue laser,  an expander or surgical orthodontic treatment, Strickland Orthodontist can assist you in creating the beautiful smile you have always wanted and/or treating the symptoms associated with conditions like TMJ.

Our offices are open Monday through Friday from 7:30a.m. to 4:30p.m. If you would like to make an appointment at our Spanish Fort or Bay Minette office, please call (251) 272-3232: To contact our Fairhope, Fairhope South or Foley office, please call (251) 928-9292. If you would rather make your appointment online, please access our contact form by clicking here.