When the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is injured, a disorder of jaw muscles and nerves is developed called temporomandibular joint syndrome. The jawbone is connected to the skull by the temporomandibular joint. The following signs and symptoms appear when the TMJ is injured:

  • Pain with grinding, clicking and popping of the jaw
  • Swelling on the sides of face
  • Headache
  • Nerve inflammation
  • Tooth grinding
  • Eustachian tube dysfunction
  • Dislocation of the TMJ

TMJ disorder is the other name of TMJ syndrome.

Risk Factors

Some risk factors to develop TMJ syndrome are mentioned below:

  • Neck straining and jaw muscle function abnormalities due to poor posture of the neck and upper back muscles
  • Increased muscle tension and clenching of jaw due to stress
  • Increased risk in women with 18 to 44 age group
  • Increased risk in patients having some chronic inflammatory disorders
  • Increased risk in people having ill positioned teeth and traumatized jaw
  • Increased sensitivity of pain

Causes

Multiple factors are involved in enhancing the muscle tightness and dysfunction leading to TMJ syndrome. The causes are mentioned below:

  • Misalignment of teeth or jaw
  • Traumatized teeth or jaw
  • Bruxism (grinding of teeth)
  • Poor position
  • Stress
  • Chronic inflammatory musculoskeletal conditions
  • Excessive chewing of gums

Pathology

During the stress phase, teeth are clenched strongly. When teeth or jaws are misaligned or imbalanced, signals are sent to the nervous system and pain is felt.

Treatment

  • Conservative treatment is mostly considered and effective in most of the cases.
  • Psychological aspects should be considered for pain management.
  • Surgical intervention is considered in selected cases which do not respond to conservative treatment due to some structural pathology.

In a nutshell, chronic pain is associated with the jaw and TMJ. When TMJ is injured or jaw is misaligned from its position, stress is produced and signals are sent to the nervous system and thus pain is started. Most of the times, it is treated conservatively; but in selected cases, surgical intervention is needed.

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References

  1. Laskin DM. Temporomandibular disorders: a term past its time? J Am Dent Assoc 2008;139(2):124-8.
  2. Scrivani SJ, Keith DA, Kaban LB. Temporomandibular disorders. N Engl J Med 2008;359(25):2693-705.