More than fifteen percent of American adults suffer from chronic facial pain. Some common symptoms include pain in or around the ear, tenderness of the jaw, clicking or popping noises when opening the mouth, or even headaches and neck aches.
Two joints, called the temporomandibular (TM) joints, and several jaw muscles make it possible to open and close the mouth. They work together when you chew, speak, and swallow.
The TM joints are among the most complex joints in the body. Located on each side of the head, these joints work together and can make many different movements, including a combination of rotating and translocational (gliding) action, used when chewing and speaking.
Each TM joint has a disc between the ball and socket. The disc cushions the load while enabling the jaw to open widely and perform movements. Any problem that prevents this complex system of muscles, ligaments, discs and bones from working together properly may result in a painful TM disorder.
A dentist can help identify the source of the pain with a thorough exam and appropriate X-rays. Some TM problems result from arthritis, dislocation, and injury. These conditions can cause pain and dysfunction. Muscles that move the joints are also subject to injury and disease. Injuries to the jaw, head or neck, and diseases such as arthritis, might result in some TM problems.
Other factors that relate to the way the teeth fit together may cause some types of TM disorders. Stress is thought to be a factor. TM disorders affect women of childbearing age more than men, or older men and women.
There are several ways TM disorders may be treated. Your dentist will recommend what type of treatment is needed for your particular problem or recommend that you be referred to a specialist.
Treatment may involve a series of steps that can include stress reducing exercises, muscle relaxants or wearing a mouth protector to prevent teeth grinding. They've been successful for many and your dentist can recommend which is best for you.© American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.