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TMJ and Jaw problems

This section looks at problems which affect the jaw, namely TMJ or temporomandibular disorder. Most dental problems affect the teeth but there are several conditions such as TMJ which are confined to the jaw only but are no less serious.

Other jaw problems include osteonecrosis of the jaw (bone loss in the jawbone) and problems with your bite caused by misaligned jaws.

TMJ affects more women than men and mainly the 20 to 40 age group.

What is TMJ disorder?

This condition affects the nerves, muscles and temporomandibular joint. It causes pain, difficulty in chewing, smiling and talking and generally, impairs the flexibility of the jaw.

There are two temporomandibular joints which lie on either side of the jaw and contain muscles, blood vessels, nerves and bones. These joints help to co-ordinate movements of the jaw such as opening and closing the jaws and are a vital part of your facial anatomy.

So, if something goes wrong then it has a dramatic impact upon many functions of the jaw.

Causes of TMJ disorder

There are several causes of TMJ which include: excessive gum chewing, teeth grinding (bruxism) and an injury to the jaw.

Symptoms of TMJ disorder

This condition causes pain around the jaw, head and neck which can also spread to the shoulders. This pain can be intense or chronic and persist for many years.

Most people notice pain in their jaw when they talk, chew food or yawning, but, it can also occur when the jaw is at rest.

Other symptoms include:

  • Clicking sound in the jaw
  • Ringing noise in the ears
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Unable to fully open the jaw
  • Jaw becomes misaligned when opening or closing
  • Facial swelling
  • Pain in the jaw, side of the face, head, neck and shoulders.
  • Muscle spasms
  • Unable to bite as easily as before
  • Feeling unwell, e.g. nausea and dizziness

This condition is usually diagnosed with a ‘bite test’. The dentist will ask you to bite down or clench your teeth and if you experience any pain whilst doing so, will be diagnosed with TMJ.

He or she may take an impression of your jaw with a mould containing soft putty which you bite into. This will help to confirm this diagnosis.

Risks of TMJ disorder

TMJ is not dangerous but it is inconvenient and can lead to long term problems such as a risk of fractured teeth due to a misaligned jaw. Plus it may affect your ability to wear veneers, crowns or implants for cosmetic purposes.

Treatment for TMJ disorder

There are a range of options available which do not require surgery and can be undertaken at home. These include:

  • Wearing a mouth guard: this will protect your teeth and prevent them from becoming worn down due to teeth grinding.
  • Occlusal equilibration: this involves the fitting of a device to correct any misalignment in the jaw. The aim is to ensure that the jaw closes properly.
  • Splint: similar to a mouth guard
  • Orthodontics, e.g. a brace

Surgery is only recommended if there is a structural problem within the jaw or if any of the above fail to ease the TMJ disorder. This takes the form of open joint surgery or an oral arthroscopy which will reposition the joint.

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