Jaw Joint Problems

The jaw joint or Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a small ‘ball and socket’ joint in the head and neck region just in front of your ear. Like many joints throughout the body, it consists of the lower jaw moving in relation to the skull base or temporal bone separated by a small cartilage disc. Several muscles that are attached to the joint and its capsule are responsible for the movement of the lower jaw – ie opening and closing your mouth.

There are many different types of TMJ disorders, ranging from traumatic injuries, to arthritic disease (Osteoarthritis or Rheumatoid arthritis),but the most common disorder is known as TemporoMandibular Joint Pain Dysfunction Syndrome (TMJ PDS). This can be induced by stress where the jaw muscles are constantly being worked during clenching, and other parafunctional activities.

Patients with TMJ PDS usually present with pain in one or both joints, with associated limitation of movement and therefore reduced mouth opening. There may also be some clicking or locking of the joint which can be distressing to the patient. Some people may find the facial muscles feel unusually tight especially first thing in the morning when they may well have been grinding their teeth during the night whilst sleeping. Other symptoms may also include headaches, neckaches/neck stiffness, to such an extent that it begins to affect your quality of life.

Treatment of TMJ disorders

This obviously varies depending upon your own diagnosis of TMJ disorders. However, a hierarchy of treatments exist (see below) starting with simple conservative measures e.g. soft diet/painkillers right up to open jaw joint surgery and joint replacements.

  • Soft diet
  • Application of warm heat or cold/ice packs
  • Restricting mouth opening
  • Jaw exercises for a period of 6 weeks
  • Simple painkillers
  • Splints/Mouth guards
  • Acupuncture
  • Joint washouts (arthrocentesis) +/- steroid injections into joint
  • Arthroscopy (small camera inserted into joint)
  • Jaw joint Surgery

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