There are several components that help with the breaking down of food in the structure of the mouth and jaw. The Tempromandibular Joint (TMJ) is the small cartilage disc that connects the lower jaw to the skull and acts as a sliding hinge when the mouth opens and closes. The TMJ is located in front of the ear and its purpose is to allow the lower jaw (mandible) to move with ease.
Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD) is the failure of the joint and mastication muscles responsible for moving the jaw to function correctly. There is a significant amount of pain associated with this dysfunction.
The causes of TMD are varied, and for some may be the result of multiple causes. Some of the most common are:
- Teeth grinding or clenching.
- Stress (this causes tension in the face and jaw muscles)
- Improper bite
- Excessive gum chewing
People suffering from TMD may experience pain or tenderness in the ear, face, and jaw area (which can be worse upon waking), locking or clicking jaws, difficulty chewing, face swelling, and headaches.
A qualified dentist will examine and evaluate the possible causes and may include an X-ray or MRI of the jaw. Treatment for TMD depends on the cause but usually includes resting the muscles and the use of heat, massages, and reducing strenuous movements in the area.