When you open and shut your jaw, you are using a joint called the temporomandibular joint. This joint connects the side of the skull (temple) to the jaw (mandible). Inside the joint is a small disc of cartilage that separates the bones so they can move easily without causing pain. If something goes wrong with this joint, you may have a condition known as TMJ, TMJ Pain, or TMJD (Temporomandibular Joint and Muscle Disorder).
To locate your temporomandibular joint, place your finger against the triangle on the front edge of your ear, then move your finger forward just a little bit. When you open and close your mouth, you’ll feel the joint shifting. Over 10 million people in the United States have TMJ problems. Both men and women report TMJ symptoms, but the majority are pre-menopausal women.
The most common symptom of TMJ is pain. The pain may be dull or sharp, and may seem to be focused in the jaw joint, near the joint on the face, or in the ear. Some people with TMJ have no pain but have difficulty opening or closing the jaw joint. Other symptoms include:
• Pain in the neck or shoulders
• Migraines or chronic headaches
• Stiffness in the jaw muscles
• Locking of the jaw or limited movement in the jaw
• Clicking, popping, or grating in the jaw joint when opening or closing the mouth
• Change in “bite” so the teeth seem to be lining up differently
• Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears
• Dizziness or vision problems
In most cases, TMJ pain occurs because the disc of cartilage in the joint has moved out of position and is no longer cushioning the bones correctly. The popping sound may be caused by the cartilage snapping back into position. Many cases are the result of damage to the joint which may be caused by:
• Trauma or injury to the joint
• Grinding the teeth
• Chewing gum excessively
• Poorly positioned teeth or an improper bite
Most people with TMJ report relatively mild symptoms, or symptoms that come and go. Many TMJ problems clear up on their own without treatment.