Many people who suffer from such seemingly disparate symptoms as headaches, earaches, tenderness of the jaw muscle, or dull, aching facial pain often share a common problem. These people, numbering close to 10 million Americans, all suffer from what has come to be known as temporomandibular (TM) disorders. TM disorders can have a variety of causes. Generally, TM disorders are believed to result when the chewing muscles and jaw joints do not work together correctly. In many cases, TM disorders can be successfully treated by your dentist.
Five pairs of muscles allow you to open and close your mouth. They also control forward, backward, and side-to-side movements of the lower jaw. Also involved in these movements are the TM joints. Each of these important joints has two sections, connected by a disk, that make possible the hinge action and gliding action needed to open the mouth widely. Any problem that prevents this complex system of muscles, joints, ligaments, and bones from working together properly may result in a TM disorder.
Your dentist can determine the cause of your symptoms by conducting a series of diagnostic tests.
Remember that TM disorders often result when the chewing muscles and the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) do not work together correctly. When this occurs, the muscles will often go into a spasm (cramp). This spasm can then become part of a cycle that results in tissue damage, pain, and muscle tenderness.
Although accidents such as injuries to the jaw, head, or neck, or diseases such as arthritis may result in some TM problems. Factors relating to the teeth and bite are also believed to be common causes of TM disorders. Among these factors are the following:
Your dentist and other health professionals who provide treatment for TM disorders care about your health and comfort. Follow the recommendations they give you and discuss with them any concerns you have. Remember, in many cases the pain, headaches, and other symptoms associated with TM disorders can be successfully and readily treated.