What is TMJ and Why is it Painful?

Temporomandibular Joint (also called TMJ), simply refers to the joint of the jaw that connects the jawbone to the skull. Most people want to know what is TMJ, and yet what they are really asking is the disorder associated with TMJ, that is TMD (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder). There are over 10 million people in the United States who suffer from TMJ, and according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, women are more likely than men to develop this disorder. Unfortunately, this disorder is still largely unknown and misunderstood. In order to understand TMJ disorder, one must first understand how the jaw works.

The jaw is made up of two TMJs, one on either side. In order for the jaw to perform its function properly, both TMJs need to work simultaneously. This means that the upper temporal bone and the lower jaw bone (also referred to as the mandible) need to come together flawlessly in order to eat, speak and make facial expressions.

TMJ hurts because there is essentially a disc displacement. The pain occurs when the upper temporal bone and the mandible do not make contact with the disc and this causes difficulty in opening the mouth. This is also why most people who suffer TMJ disorders hear a “popping” sound when they open and close their mouth.

One of the principal TMJ disorders causes sufferers to go through pain in various places like the ear, neck and back. In some extreme cases, the whole body may be affected. The reason pain can spread to different parts of the body is due to the fact that the problem does not only involve the jaw joint, but it also includes muscles, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels and other tissues. This is why TMJ disorder sufferers can experience a range of symptoms, ranging from ear pain, sore necks, back pain, and headaches. This also means that treatment may entail consultation with a number of specialists, from dentists to otolaryngologists (doctors that specialize in ear, nose and throat conditions). The good news is that in most cases, the pain can be reduced with proper in-home care that do not require surgical treatments.

TMJ disorders can be very serious and should be properly diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. The more obvious signs of what is TMJ disorder are the malocclusion of the teeth (this means that the teeth do not meet when the jaw is fully closed), teeth grinding during sleep, and possessing an overbite. People who suffer from arthritis may also be in danger of getting this disorder.