Have you ever wondered what stops your jaw from opening wider? The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a complex structure that is heavily responsible for the movements of your jaw, and there are many components that work in harmony to make your jaw function properly. One particular component is the articular eminence (AE), which is a bone that is a raised on the temporal bone of your skull.
The name "articular eminence" may sound strange at first, but as you learn more about its function, you'll understand why it's an appropriate name. The word "articular" means that this structure is part of a movable joint. The word "eminence," when used in relation to anatomy, simply means an elevation or projection.
As explained by a study in The Scientific World Journal, the AE is a part of the temporal bone, which is a fused portion of the skull that surrounds each of your ears. The AE, specifically, is located in front of the lower half of your ears and is positioned directly in front of the hinge portion of your lower jaw. It protrudes downward from the main portion of the temporal bone and is similar in shape to a semicircle.
Role of the Articular Eminence in Jaw Movement
According to a study in the Journal of Dental Sciences, the TMJ is one of the most complex joints in the human body because it has the unique ability to move on all three planes of motion, which include up and down, side to side and back and forth. The AE guides the path of the condyle, which is the topmost end of your jawbone, as well as the degree of rotation. Simply put, this means that the AE controls how far your jaw (or mandible) can open. When the mandible lowers to open, the AE restricts its ability to move and controls how far it rotates. In between the AE and the topmost portion of the mandible is a structure called the articular disk that cushions the movement, as explained by TeachMeAnatomy.
TMJ Disorders and Treatment
If you are concerned that you may be having problems with your jaw, it's best to visit your dentist or physician sooner rather than later. According to the Mayo Clinic, you may have a TMJ disorder if you experience a clicking or popping sound as you open or close your jaw, tightness in the jaw muscle that results in a limited ability to open your jaw or any overall pain or tenderness in the joint. As detailed in The Scientific World Journal study, the shape and angle of the AE can vary among people and make some individuals more likely to experience TMJ problems. Grinding or clenching habits cause strain to the TMJ and can intensify any existing issues.
As the Mayo Clinic explains, TMJ discomfort or pain will sometimes go away without treatment, but some individuals experience persistent issues and symptoms that do not subside. Recommended treatments can include over-the-counter pain relievers, anti-inflammatory medications or even muscle relaxers. Your dentist might also recommend wearing a mouth guard. Ice and heat applied to the area can also help. Surgery may be recommended when other treatment methods do not help.
Ultimately, your dentist's understanding of your particular jaw anatomy, symptoms and issues will help them make the most informed and effective treatment recommendations.