The temporomandibular joint (also known as the TMJ) is located at the base of your skull in front of the ear structure. It connects the mandible (lower jaw) and the maxilla (upper jaw).
Structure of the TMJ
The TMJ has a unique structure compared to other joints in the body in that it consists of a rounded protrusion of the mandible that rests against an indent in the skull and a disc-shaped piece made of cartilage (a soft bone) that is located between the two bones. Ligaments from different parts of the head and neck hold these three parts together to provide support for the jaw. These muscles have several ligaments attached to them, many of which help the lower jaw to move.
Function of the TMJ
The TMJ has two means of opening the mouth. The first way is by acting as a hinge to open and close your mouth, similar to a hinge on a door. It also moves in a sliding motion where the lower jaw moves forward and down. This second motion allows the TMJ to move forward and backward and from side to side when you perform actions like eating, yawning, and singing.
Complications with the TMJ
The TMJ is subject to fracture and swelling, limiting the low jaw’s movement and causing pain in the head and neck. It is rare for the articular disc to become fractured, but it’s more common for it to become displaced, and this causes great pain and swelling.
Arthritis in the TMJ is very rare compared to other joints in the body, and it is hard use anti-inflammatory drugs alone. Fortunately, pain in the TMJ is usually only temporary, and we can treat it with ice and heat.
Grinding and Clenching
Pain in the TMJ often comes from the teeth rather than the TMJ itself and its surrounding ligaments. Teeth grinding is problematic if you have misaligned teeth. Certain movements can cause your teeth to grind together, resulting in joint pain. Some people grind their teeth due to stress, and Young Jun, DDS, MD, FACS can determine whether or not this is the cause.
Some patients clench their teeth, whether during the day or when they sleep. Young Jun, DDS, MD, FACS may prescribe a nightguard if you have this problem after he makes a thorough diagnosis.
Surgery for the TMJ
We use surgery to correct problems with the TMJ, but only rarely. We may use special imaging to examine the joint to see if surgery is necessary. Procedures in this area are similar to the orthopedic treatment a patient would receive for an injured knee.
Preserving the TMJ
Regular visits to our office for examinations and professional cleanings are necessary for the health of your TMJ along with your teeth. TMJ conditions often cause wear to the enamel, but you can reverse this by brushing with fluorinated toothpaste.
If you have any other questions or concerns, please give us a call at (657) 216-1617.