The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a common source of pain and dysfunction. The TMJ is the joint that connects the lower jaw to the skull and allows the mouth to open and close, to facilitate chewing and speaking. It is one of the smallest joints in the body, but can be one of the most debilitating because we must frequently use it throughout the day when eating or talking.
People who suffer from TMJ dysfunction often have a clicking or popping sensation when opening or closing their mouths. This clicking or popping, which happens when the disk in the joint is not in the correct position when the jaw is moving, can be so pronounced that others may even be able to hear it. Other common symptoms include headaches, neck pain, and ringing in the ears (often referred to as tinnitus). One of the major causes of TMJ dysfunction is bruxism, a repetitive clenching or grinding of the teeth. This typically happens at night while sleeping, so people may not be aware of it until their dentist notices early wearing on the teeth or a spouse or family member may hear the grinding sound. Another potential cause of TMJ dysfunction includes activities where the mouth is forceful closed in a misaligned position such as in excessive gum chewing and nail biting. Degenerative joint disease, structural mouth and tooth issues, and neck and upper back posture can also contribute to TMJ dysfunction. It is important to assess posture because when posture is poor, it disrupts the normal mechanics of the muscles responsible for chewing, putting additional strain on the joint.
It is always suggested to see your dentist to assess for any structural problems. Bruxism, for example, can be minimized with the use of a bite plate (also known as a night guard) to be worn at night, when the grinding is at its worse.
Physiotherapy is beneficial for people who suffer from TMJ issues. Physiotherapists, who have specific training in the TMJ, will properly assess not only the jaw, but also the neck. Potential course of treatment includes muscle retraining, manual therapy techniques for the joint and surrounding muscles, and pain relief modalities, such as TENS, Laser or acupuncture.
Have you ever heard anyone grinding their teeth at night?