“TMJ” is a term used to describe disorders that cause pain and dysfunction of the temporomandibular (jaw) joint, and the muscles that control the movement of the lower jaw. Usually, discomfort is intermittant, and goes away with little or no treatment. Sometimes, however, significant long-term symptoms develop.
The best current term is temporomandibular disorders (TMD). This term recognizes the variety of problems that may be involved in producing pain and other symptoms. The three main categories of TMD are (1) myofascial pain, (2) internal derangement of the joint, and (3) arthritis. More than one of these conditions may be present at the same time.
The most common symptoms of TMD are (1) radiating pain in the face, jaw, or neck, (2) jaw muscle stiffness, (3) limited movement, or jaw locking, (4) painful clicking, popping, or grating in the jaw joint when the mouth is opened or closed, and (5) a change in the way the teeth fit together.
There are a number of other health problems with similar symptoms that may co-exist with TMJ disorders. Examples are chronic fatigue syndrome, sleep disturbances, and fibromyalgia.
TMD and Bruxism
The relationship between bruxism and TMD is complex. When bruxism is diagnosed by patient’s self-report, there is an association between bruxism and myofascial (jaw muscle) pain (Manfredini, 2010). Research is ongoing, but bruxism could be considered a risk factor for myofascial pain.
Until we have more scientific evidence regarding safe and effective treatments for TMD, it is wise to stay away from procedures that can cause permanent changes in the bite or jaw position. Even when TMJ symptoms are persistent, most patients do not need aggressive treatment. In our practice, we recommend conservative treatments such as self-care (soft foods, ice packs, avoiding extreme jaw movements, learning techniques to reduce stress), physical therapy, pain medications, and acrylic splints worn over the teeth for short periods of time.
Depending upon the nature of your problem, we may refer you to a practitioner who has completed an accredited residency program in oral medicine and facial pain.