What is TMJ?

TMJ: What exactly is it?

You have probably heard the term TMJ or TMD thrown around and you may have heard it used to describe a number of different scenarios. But to define exactly what your TMJ is may have left you baffled.

Lethbridge dentist Dr. Lachman: “TMJ is a complex problem that isn’t very well understood. Because it involves bones, ligaments and your teeth, it is often unclear who should be treating a TMJ disorder. Should you see a medical doctor, a physiotherapist, a chiropractor, a dentist? To top off the confusion, there is a lot of misinformation that can leave a person even more confused.”

Untangling the acronym

TMJ is an abbreviation for your Temporo-Mandibular Joint. Simply stated, it is your jaw joint; the joint that attaches your lower jaw to your skull at the temporal bone.You have two TMJ’s. One on each side of your face, although they work in unison.

When you experience discomfort or pain in this area, it is commonly referred to as “TMJ” when in actuality, TMJ is just the name of the joint. TMJD is the correct term for the pain that results from a disorder with your Temporo-Mandibular Joint.

Check it out

Although it’s quite the mouthful to say, your Temporo Mandibular Joint is actually quite easy to find.

tmj-jaw-joint-locationTo locate your jaw joint, place your finger under your cheekbone, just in front of the middle of your ear. Can you feel that movement when you open and close your jaw? That’s your TMJ.

Here’s another trick. Place your little fingers, pads forward, in your ear canals and gently pull forward. Open and close your teeth. Do you feel any clicking, popping or grinding? That’s a likely stressed TMJ.

When the TMJ isn’t working as it should, due to:

  • an injury
  • teeth grinding
  • genetics
  • an underdeveloped jaw
  • the shape of your skull
  • a misaligned bite
  • arthritis

it is placed under a great deal of stress. This stress can cause Lethbridge TMJ patients to experience a variety of symptoms, such as:

tmj-lethbridgeA real nutcracker

When you chew, the motion of your jaws is very similar to the way a nutcracker works.

Picture your jaw joint as the hinge of the nutcracker.  Your front teeth are at the ends of the handles and your molars are close to the hinge itself.

If you place the nut far away from the hinge you will have to use extra force trying to break the nut open; maybe not even cracking it.

When you are missing your back teeth, you can still chew but just like the nutcracker you will need to use much more force which leads to muscle pain and joint damage.

Whereas, if you place the nut close to the hinge, the nut cracks easily with only a modest amount of force.  This illustration is useful when you think of how the human jaws work.

What’s going on under the surface?

tmj-missing-teethIn a nutshell, when your upper and lower teeth meet incorrectly in what’s sometimes called a bad bite, your  jaw muscles have to work extra hard to do everything they need to do – and they do a lot.

The result of this extra workload is often tired, stressed jaw muscles. Since your body works as a unit, once your jaw muscles tire, your neck, face, shoulder and back muscles pitch in to share the load.

Eventually, as these muscles fatigue as well, they can becoming strained, inflamed and painful as well. Tight, stressed muscles can also put pressure on the nerves that run through them, creating pain signals, known as referred pain.

It could be that you have back teeth which are not correctly positioned, damaged, or poorly restored. If the support of back teeth is incorrect, it could be the reason for jaw joint pain.

 

Need more info?

If you answered yes, you’re not alone. It’s pretty hard to understand this complex problem by reading a simple web page. If you are suffering from any of the symptoms listed above, we recommend scheduling a TMJ consultation with Dr. Lachman.