What exactly is temporomandibular disorder (TMD) or Jaw Pain?
This condition which affects the muscles and joints between the lower jaw and the base of the skull can cause pain and difficulties when eating, amongst other problems.
It is possible to feel the temporomandibular joints by placing your fingers directly in front of your ears and opening your mouth. What you can feel are the rounded ends of your lower jaw as they move along the joint socket of your temporal bone (this is the part of your skull that contains your inner ear and temple).
TM disorders can affect people of any age; many of those affected are actually young women.
What are the signs and symptoms?
- Difficulty in biting or chewing
- Clicking, popping or grating noises when opening or closing mouth
- Pain in front of the ear that may spread to the cheek, ear and temple
- Earache or blocked sensation in the ear
- Headache or migraine
- Sensitivity or pain around the jaw
- Locking of jaw
- Difficulty in opening and closing mouth
In the case of dental occlusion (an uneven bite), the treatment is aimed towards the correction of the bite. Orthodontics or bite adjustment techniques are used for correction in most cases, however, orthognactic surgery (jaw correction surgery) is sometimes required when there is an abnormality within the joint.
Bruxism (teeth grinding)
Bruxism is the medical term used for describing the involuntary habit of grinding the teeth and clenching the jaw. Bruxism affects between 10-20% of the population and is mainly associated with stress and anxiety. It can cause headaches, neck ache, jaw pain and earache.
There are two types of bruxism: grinding and clenching and they can occur both at night or during the day. Most cases of bruxism occur subconsciously during sleep and detection is either by somebody sharing the same home and alarmed by the noise of teeth grinding or by dentists who, during a dental appointment, observe a loss of enamel and dentine.
Treatment is recommended to avoid damage to teeth and ill effect on the jaw muscles. In many cases, the use of a mouth guard (made out of flexible rubber or plastic) or mouth splint (made of a harder plastic) at night is advised to alleviate symptoms and avoid permanent damage to teeth. By using one of these devices, jaw pain, headaches and earaches disappear within the first few days, along with other symptoms that may have occurred due to the wear and tear on the jaw joints.