The letters TMJ are short for ‘temporo-mandibular joint’, which is the joint connecting your lower jaw and your skull. The movement in this joint lets you open and close your mouth and chew from side to side.
If your teeth do not fit together properly then this can cause problems for the teeth, gums, and the temporo-mandibular joint. These problems are called ‘occlusal’ problems and can be as follows:
You may find that you clench or grind your teeth, although most people who do are not aware of it. Clenching can be caused by anxiety, stress, or concentrating on a task.
You may wake up in the morning with a stiff jaw or tenderness when you bite together. This could be due to clenching or grinding your teeth in your sleep.
If you suffer from severe headaches or neck and shoulder pain, you may not have linked this with possible jaw issues. However, these are all symptoms of TMJ problems.
Depending on the problems you are having, it can be possible to spot the signs of an occlusal problem. Various muscles may be sore when tested, or the broken and worn areas of your teeth will show you are grinding your teeth – a common sign of an incorrect bite.
If we suspect that your problems are due to an incorrect bite, we may help to diagnose the problem by supplying a temporary soft night guard or hard plastic appliance that fits over your upper or lower teeth. This appliance needs to be measured and fitted very accurately so that when you bite on it, all your teeth meet at exactly the same time in a position where your muscles are relaxed.
Replacement of teeth – The tempro-mandibular joint needs equal support from both sides of both jaws. The chewing action is designed to work properly only when all your teeth are present and in the correct position. Missing teeth may need to be replaced either with a partial denture or bridgework.
Medication – Some medications can help in certain cases, but this is usually only temporary. Hormone replacement therapy may also help some women.
Diet and Exercise – As with any joint pain, it can help to put less stress on the joint. Therefore, a soft diet can be helpful, as can corrective exercises, external heat, and Physiotherapy.
Relaxation – Counselling and relaxation therapy may also help in some cases. These techniques help the patient to become more aware of stressful situations and to control tension.