What is TMJ?
What is TMJ or Jaw Joint Injury?
TMJ is short for "temporomandibular joint". The temporomandibular joint connects the lower jaw, called the mandible, to the temporal bone at the side of the head. The temporomandibular joint's importance cannot be understated, as it one of the most frequently used and complex joints in your body. TMJ injuries can result from a car, motorcycle, truck, pedestrian and other motor vehicle accidents (e.g., when air bags deploy and strike jaw or face) as well as falls.
If you place your fingers just in front of your ears and open your mouth, you can feel the TM joint on each side of your head. Because these joints are flexible, the jaw can move smoothly up and down and side to side, enabling us to talk, chew and yawn.
Muscles attached to and surrounding the jaw joint control its position and movement. When we open our mouths, the rounded ends of the lower jaw, called condyles, glide along the joint socket of the temporal bone. The condyles slide back to their original position when we close our mouths. To keep this motion smooth, a soft disc lies between the condyle and the temporal bone. This disc absorbs shocks to the TMJ from chewing and other movements.
What are some symptoms of TMJ?
Only a physician can correctly and accurately diagnose a TMJ injury; however, you may experience any of the following symptoms that indicate serious TMJ injury:
- A clicking sound when opening or closing your mouth, especially when chewing
- Locking of your jaw
- Difficulty or discomfort while chewing or biting
- Tenderness or dull, aching pain in face, especially when awaking
- Persistent headaches
- Ringing in the ear
- Pain in neck, shoulders and back
- Stuffiness or pain in your sinus area
- Hearing problems
- Sensitive teeth
- Light sensitivity
There is no one single best treatment for TMJ. There are dozens of TMJ treatments available, and finding the best one may just be a matter of trial and error to the TMJ accident victim.
Possible TMJ treatments include a repositioning appliance (mouth splint), moist heat therapy, trigger point injections, and physical therapy. Some of our clients report great benefit from exercises, including opening their mouth and jaw as wide as possible. Please consult with your TMJ dental specialist for advice specific to your case.
The goal of any TMJ treatment is to realign the jawbone to the skull, and stabilize the temporomandibular joints, and restore them to their normal function. Conservative TMJ treatment often runs for four to nine months.
Where conservative treatment doesn't work, surgery is considered. After surgery, rehabilitation and therapy are necessary. Even with the best diagnostic techniques and treatment many TMJ injury victims will have a permanent disability due to the very serious nature of this type of injury.
The temporomandibular joint is nerve-rich and has very complicated movements within it which make it vulnerable to injury. What may seem like a short-term problem from a simple car accident, can turn into a chronic or long-term problem.