What is TMJ?

If you’ve been to the dentist because of ongoing “popping” in your jaw, you may have been diagnosed with TMJ disorder. It sounds scary, but for most people, this condition is a short-term one that goes away with rest and treatment.

TMJ, short for temporomandibular joint, is a disorder that ranges from annoying and uncomfortable to severely painful. At Supremia Dentistry, we believe that when you understand what’s going on inside your mouth to cause the popping and pain, you can recover faster.

You may be wondering things like “Can TMJ heal naturally?” and “What will happen if my TMJ is not treated?” Those answers and more are found in this expert guide.

What Does it Mean to Have TMJ?

Before we delve into what it means to be diagnosed with TMJ, let’s look at the body parts it involves. 

Your temporomandibular joint is the part that acts as a hinge to connect the temporal bones in your skull to your jaw. It’s a complex joint that functions with a wide range of motion.

Think about all the ways you can move your jaw. The temporomandibular joint is responsible for the way you move your mouth and jaw forward and backward and side-to-side. 

To be able to make all these complicated movements, like talking, chewing, and yawning, the joint must be aligned perfectly with the bones. Any time it is even slightly off, you are going to feel that popping sensation you noticed. 

When this doesn’t go away right away, it could be a sign of a temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD. TMD is the correct name for the problem, but many people call it TMJ after the joint that is affected.

Causes of TMJ

The biggest question after being given this diagnosis is, “Does TMJ go away?” The answer isn’t black or white, though. It depends on the cause for your TMJ symptoms.

So, what is the main cause of TMJ, anyway? 

Although we don’t know exactly what causes TMJ, we do know that it all stems from the joint itself. TMJ is a common side effect seen after a trauma to the jaw or to the side of the head. With this type of injury, TMJ symptoms are frequently moderate to severe.

Other cases of TMJ start out as annoying or mild discomfort. They seemingly appear out of nowhere, but they’re usually the result of damage to the joint from an ongoing habit. Grinding or clenching your teeth or chewing gum are frequently the reason your jaw starts popping.

What’s happening is that your facial muscles attached to the joint are overworked and are tightening up. This is painful enough, but if it continues, the problem gets worse. There is a little disc made out of cartilage that sits between the bones and the TMJ to protect the joint. Over time and with too much pressure, this disc ges damaged.

When TMJ is a result of overuse, it can go away on its own if you are careful about how you move your jaw and allow it to rest. A mouthguard custommade for you from your dentist can help with clenching and grinding. Stopping your gum chewing habit for a little while (or permanently) gives your jaw time to rest and heal.

But sometimes the cause of TMJ is an underlying medical condition and your jaw pain is one of the symptoms. If your TMJ symptoms go on for longer than one week and you’ve been trying to rest your jaw, make sure you schedule an appointment with Supremia Dentistry. Your dentist will determine if there is something simple, like clenching, going on, or if there is a more complicated medical issue.

Some medical reasons that your TMJ might be acting up include:

  • Arthritis, specifically rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, conditions that naturally cause inflammation and joint pain
  • Sleep apnea, a treatable but serious condition in which your airway can become obstructed when you sleep and your jaw and neck clench down to prevent this from happening
  • Myofascial pain syndrome, a disorder in which the individual has chronic pain in certain muscles, such as the facial ones connectedto the jaw
  • Infections in the salivary glands, usually easily noticed because the patient will also have other symptoms, such as swelling, facial pain, and dry mouth

When it comes to TMJ symptoms that last longer than one week, always let your dentist know what is going on.

Schedule Your Appointment Today

If you are concerned you may have TMD/TMJ or have been diagnosed with this ailment, the experts at Supremia Dentistry can help. Once we narrow down the cause of your problem, we can create a treatment plan to reduce your pain and try to eliminate the issue.

For TMJ symptoms and all other oral hygiene care, Supremia Dentistry is here for you.