Temporomandibular (TMJ) disorder occurs as a result of problems with the jaw, jaw joint, and surrounding facial muscles that control chewing and moving the jaw.
The temporomandibular joint is the hinge that connects the lower jaw to the temporal bone of the skull, which is immediately in front of the ear on each side of the head. The joints are flexible, allowing the jaw to move smoothly up and down and side to side. Muscles attached to and surrounding the jaw joint control the position and movement of the jaw.
The cause of TMJ disorder is not clear, but it is thought that symptoms arise from problems with the muscles of the jaw or with the parts of the joint itself. Some possible causes of injury to the jaw may be due to a heavy blow or whiplash, grinding or clenching of the teeth, the presence of arthritis in the temporomandibular joint, or stress that can cause you to clench your jaw.
People with TMJ disorders can experience severe pain and discomfort that can be temporary or last for many years. The symptoms that are associated with these disorders are pain or tenderness in the face, jaw, or neck areas, limited ability to open your mouth very wide, your jaw may get stuck in an open or closed state, a tired feeling in the face, or swelling in the face. TMD can also cause headaches, neck aches, earaches, dizziness, or ringing in the ears which are all symptoms that may be attributed to other conditions that present with similar symptoms.
Your dentist will examine your temporomandibular joints for pain or tenderness, look for limited motion or locking of the jaw, and take x-rays. Sometimes other diagnostic testing will be ordered, or your dentist may decide to send you to an oral surgeon for further evaluation.
Physical therapy can aide in the treatment of temporomandibular disorders with manual therapeutic massage and by teaching you relaxation exercises to help control muscle tension in the jaw. Your therapist will also show you how to correct your posture to help reduce neck and facial pain. These techniques, combined with the use of moist heat, cold packs and possibly dry needling can ease the pain these disorders cause and help restore the natural movement of your jaw.