General Facts Regarding TMJ and Jaw Pain
The lower jaw meets the skull in front of the ear and the joint that connects them is called the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). The initials, TMJ, refer to the joint itself. Problems or pain in the joint or muscles in the head and neck region are often referred to as temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD).
Noises in the TMJ are very common, and TMJ structural abnormalities are estimated to be present in approximately 35% of the adult population. Like any joint (knee, shoulder) the TMJ can be strained or injured. Injury can result from a specific trauma to the jaw area or can result from prolonged microtrauma (wear and tear) from oral habits (tooth grinding, jaw clenching, gum chewing). Some TMJ abnormalities are probably developmental (genetics), where no specific cause can be determined.
Once a joint is strained, it can be more easily re-injured (like a sprained ankle which is subsequently more prone to injury). Because we use the jaw for so many activities (talking, eating, yawning, laughing), the joint is constantly being moved. Therefore, TOTAL relaxation of the jaw joint and surrounding muscles is difficult. Maintaining the jaw muscles and joints in a relaxed position is, however, very manageable with practice. Regular attempts to relax the jaw muscles and avoidance of activities that would overwork the area, will be helpful to reduce the pain and prevent additional strain to that area.
Acronym for Temporomandibular Joint (the jaw joint), which is the ball and socket joint located in front of each ear. "TMJ" is often used a diagnostic label, as in, "my dentist says I have TMJ." "TMJ" is often used by dentists, doctors, and the public as a term of diagnosis. This is not a correct use of the acronym for "temporomandibular joint" and when used in this way can lead to faulty conclusions regarding the causes of jaw abnormalities, pain or dysfunction of the jaw.
Inflammation of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) that can typically result in stiffness and pain.
TMJ Internal Derangement
Structural abnormalities of the TMJ that may or may not be painful and often result in joint noises (click, pop, crack, crunch) with jaw movement (opening, closing, biting, chewing, yawning).
Temporomandibular joint surgery can be minimally invasive - injection of steroids or involve arthroscopic or open-joint procedures.
Repetitive or habitual movements of the jaw, mouth or tongue or other uses of these structures that are not related to normal jaw function such as biting, chewing, talking, yawning, singing, etc. Examples of jaw parafunction are: clenching the teeth when stressed, biting or chewing the lip or cheeks, tapping teeth together, jutting the jaw forward or side-to-side, chewing on objects, fingernails, etc. These behaviors can often develop into an overuse injury of the jaw.