The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a junction of bones and ligaments located on each side of your head that allows movement of your jaw for speaking and chewing. The name TMJ comes from the two bones that enter its formation, the temporal bone and the mandible (also known as the jawbone). If you position your fingers in front of your ears and slowly open your mouth, you can feel your TMJ and its movement. Try it!
Over time, a patient may experience a disease linked with one or both of their TMJs called temporomandibular disorder (TMD). TMD is a multifaceted disorder that can consist of the following:
- pain, muscle tenderness, or muscle spasms around the jaw joint;
- clicking, popping, or cracking heard in the joint when opening or closing the jaw;
- limitations of jaw movement, aching, or soreness when yawning, talking, or chewing;
- jaw "locking up" or becoming "stuck," also known as lockjaw.
The causes of TMD are most often believed to be stress-related. Most commonly, clenching or grinding of the teeth may be the chief explanation for TMD. A night guard can be worn if you notice that you wake up with a sore or tender jaw. Other causes of TMD involve injuries to the jaw, head or neck, arthritis, or malocclusion (poor alignment of the teeth).
The diagnosis and treatment of TMD should be determined by your dentist or physician. Most often, the symptoms of TMD are temporary. Treatment may include a warm compress, resting the jaw, pain medication, eating soft foods, avoiding gum, and avoiding hard and chewy foods. More invasive treatment such as surgery can be utilized for severe cases of TMD.