Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome is a disorder involving the two joints (one on each side) that attach the lower jaw to the skull. These two joints open and close the mouth, and are located directly in front of each of the ears. In TMJ syndrome, the area around the temporomandibular joints becomes chronically tender and inflamed. Symptoms include the following:
- Pain in the temporomandibular joint
- Popping, clicking, or grating in the temporomandibular joint while eating and/or drinking
- A sensation of the jaw “catching” or “locking” briefly, while attempting to open or close the mouth, or while chewing
- Difficulty opening the mouth completely
- Pain in the jaw
- Facial pain
- Muscle pain and/or spasm in the area of the temporomandibular joint
- Ear pain
- Neck and/or shoulder pain
TMJ syndrome often occurs in people who have had accidents or injuries involving their jaw, but many others have had no such incident. It is believed that grinding the teeth or clenching the jaw in response to stress may trigger the condition in many cases. Other possible causes include arthritis of the temporomandibular joint, facial bone defects, and misalignments of the jaw or of the bite.
The underlying cause of TMJ syndrome is not known. In most cases, the joint appears to be healthy, suggesting that it is the soft tissue around the joint rather than the joint itself that has the problem. However, some cases of TMJ syndrome may be caused by TMJ arthritis, TMJ dislocation, or other forms of true joint injury.
Treatment of TMJ includes stress management, avoidance of certain foods that trigger discomfort (such as gum or beef jerky), and anti-inflammatory medications. The older antidepressant drug amitriptyline, taken in low doses,
According to a few controlled trials, some people with more severe forms of TMJ may benefit from the use of a dental appliance.
Proposed Natural Treatments
The supplement glucosamine
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7. Thie NM, Prasad NG, Major PW. Evaluation of glucosamine sulfate compared to ibuprofen for the treatment of temporomandibular joint osteoarthritis: a randomized double blind controlled 3 month clinical trial. J Rheumatol . 2001;28:1347–1355.
8. Nguyen P, Mohamed SE, Gardiner D, et al. randomized double-blind clinical trial of the effect of chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine hydrochloride on temporomandibular joint disorders: a pilot study. Cranio . 2001;19:130–139.
12. Smith P, Mosscrop D, Davies S et al. The efficacy of acupuncture in the treatment of temporomandibular joint myofascial pain: A randomised controlled trial. J Dent . 2006 Nov 7 [Epub ahead of print].
13. Ritenbaugh C, Hammerschlag R, Calabrese C, et al. A pilot whole systems clinical trial of traditional chinese medicine and naturopathic medicine for the treatment of temporomandibular disorders. J Altern Complement Med. 2008;14:475-487.
Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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