TMJ Disorders Overview

Tempomandibular Joint (TMJ) Pain Causes

Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) consist of a broad category of disorders involving the muscles of chewing and the hard and soft tissues of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). TMD can affect one or both TMJs that connects your jaw bone to your skull. Like other joints, the TMJ may suffer injuries, inflammation, and infection.

However, your TMJ's complex design and function are different from any other joint in your body, so treating some of its disorders and pain get tricky. Depending on the severity of the disorder, TMD can affect your ability to speak, chew, swallow, and make facial expressions. Also included under the heading of TMD are disorders involving the jaw muscles. These may accompany the jaw joint problems or occur independently.

TMJ disorders afflict approximately 35 million people in the United States, and it appears to affect women more than men.1

If you are experiencing TMJ pain or disorder for the first time, do not panic. It will probably go away without treatment if you give it a little time. If your pain is extreme or incapacitating, or the problem does not improve after a few days, you should call your clincian or dentist to get started on a TMJ treatment plan.

Causes of TMJ Disorders

The medical community isn't exactly sure what causes most TMD, but they know that there are numerous possible factors that can lead to the development of a TMD.

In fact, with TMD, there is usually a combination of causes that lead to jaw pain and other TMJ disorder symptoms.

The TMJ is complex, with many associated muscles, tissues, and facial nerves. For example, 150,000 people are diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia (facial pain) every year. While the disorder can occur at any age, and is more common in women, it is most common in those over age 50, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Also, many of the ears' elaborate mechanisms are close by. Because the TMJ is so complex, changes in any one of these parts of the TMJ can lead to development of a TMD.

Possible Causes of TMDs

•    A disorder in the articular disc between the skull and jawbone: The articular disc helps keep jaw movement smooth.

•    Arthritis and/or inflammation in the TMJ: Cartilage in the TMJ can become damaged by arthritis.

•    Constantly chewing gum: Chewing gum too often as well as other environmental factors may contribute to a TMJ disorder.1

•    Grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw: Tension in the jaw muscles can lead to a TMD.

•    Hormones:TMDs are more common in women than in men (especially women in their childbearing years). Researchers think there may be a link between female sex hormones and TMDs.1

•    Infections: Some experts think an infection can trigger a TMD.

•    Jaw injury: A jaw injury (even a minor one) can lead to a TMD.

•    Your genes: For example, if your mom has a TMD, you're more prone to developing one, too.

It's important to note that not everyone who is at risk for a TMD will actually develop one. For example, many people who grind their teeth may never get a TMD; on the other hand, you can get a TMD even if you don't grind your teeth or have jaw pain.

Although the cause of TMDs isn't always clear, your physician or dentist can help you address any questions you have about the possible causes of TMDs.

Other Health Conditions With TMD

You may experience other health conditions along with your TMD. People with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, sleep disturbances, and arthritis often experience TMD, too. TMJ experts do not know if all of these conditions share common causes.

Your TMD may challenge your physicians. While the symptoms are somewhat obvious, actually sorting out TMDs from a number of other conditions is complex. With a moderate to complex case, it is hard to know which treatments will be ideal for your situation.

You and your clinician many need to exercise patience, as you use trial and error with the various treatments, until you find one or more beneficial treatments.

Updated on: 08/22/18
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TMJ Disorder Symptoms