The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a mouth joint located in front of the ear. It is common for patients to have discomfort such as popping or clicking, pain and tenderness in this joint. Your dentist is responsible for diagnosing the nature of the disorder and providing a treatment plan.
The joint is composed of the lower jaw bone which connects to the bone at the base of the skull. A fibro cartilaginous disk (a disk comprised of tissue fiber and cartilage) divides both bones, softening their contact. A set of ligaments and muscles surround the joint and keep the disk and bone in place.
TMJ disorder occurs when the bone and the cartilage disk are not able to move properly, restricting movement, causing irritating joint noise, or inducing painful movement of the jaw. The severity of the TMJ disorder is measured by the amount of work required to return the jaw disk to its original position. Symptoms are noticeable with pain and sounds (clicking and grinding).
The joint and bones associated with the TMJ can be affected negatively by other ailments. Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, pseudogout and lupus can affect the TMJ. Osteoporosis affects the bone and degenerates the contacting surfaces, creating friction which leads to further pain and discomfort.
Other limitations of TMJ function can be caused by trauma, and in the worst cases can completely lock the jaw.
When patients experience tenderness around the jaw area, masticatory (chewing) muscles can be involved, and it usually results in pain due to hyperactivity and altered muscle function, like nightly teeth grinding or bruxism. It is common for a jaw disorder to affect one side of the mouth only. Pain can present itself in the form of headaches, ear pain, or abnormal burning sensations in the tongue.
Systemic conditions such as arthritis, lupus and pseudogout are treated by physicians. Local conditions such as teeth grinding (bruxism), dislocation or trauma, are treated by dentists. Surgery is needed in some cases, but many conditions can be treated with non-invasive methods such as the use of mouth guards at night, jaw repositioning, neuromuscular and psychological therapy, and medication to treat TMJ alterations.
If you are interested in treatment for TMJ disorders in Costa Rica, please fill out the “Help me Find a Dentist” form. A participating dental specialist will reply to your needs.