TMJ is a phrase you may have heard in connection with dentistry. It stands for temporomandibular joint, the joint that enables movement of your jaws. It goes without saying that this is a very important joint, but unfortunately, it is also susceptible to problems. Your TM joints are located between your upper jaw and the base of your skull on both sides of your head. They are designed to allow smooth movement of the jaws, but over time the disc that cushions the joints becomes worn, and the movements of your jaws become less smooth. You may not even realize that you have a problem with your TM joints, but they could be the cause of headaches, neck pain, facial pain and sometimes even vision and hearing problems.
The branch of dentistry that is involved in the diagnosis and treatment of TMJ disorders is called neuromuscular dentistry. This is a science that involves the nerves as well as the muscles and joints. TMJ disorder can be related to a nerve called the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for sensation in the face and for biting and chewing.
TMJ dentistry can treat TMJ disorder with medications or by instructing patients on using jaw exercises to help relieve pain. In some cases, an oral appliance, called a splint, can be fitted for the patient to help their jaws stay in a position that will allow them to move freely while alleviating pain. Whenever possible, treatment for TMJ disorder is non-invasive, but in some cases, treatment may be recommended to permanently change the patient’s bite.
Signs of TMJ disorder include pain when speaking or chewing or popping or clicking noises when moving the jaws; stiffness or pain in the jaws; facial or neck pain; and headaches that don’t respond to ordinary pain medications.