TMJ: It’s not a Disorder but a Bone

What are the most common reasons a jaw would click, pop, or hurt?

Beecroft orthodontics, tmj

Patients say, “My jaw clicks and pops, and I wake up with severe pain in my jaw--I must have TMJ.”

And I reply, “Yes. I believe you have two of them.”

You see, it’s funny because the jaw joint is the “TMJ,” meaning “temporal mandibular joint.” It’s like saying, “I think I have ‘elbow’” or ‘knee.’” What they really mean is, “I have TMD,” which is temporomandibular disorder - a jaw joint disorder.

So, what is TMJ, what are the reasons for problems with it, and how do you fix them?


What is the jaw joint?

The jaw joint is one of the most complex in the human body--both a gliding and hinging joint. Elbows and knees are hinging joints, but your metacarpals (hands and feet) are gliding. Your jaw joint is the only joint in the body that does both--hinging when you open your mouth and gliding when you open wider. It’s probably the most used joint in the body--used for talking and eating. This causes the ligaments, the muscles and the discs, to work a lot. And, a lot can go wrong.

So going back to TMD. Let’s look at reasons for this disorder.

Reason for jaw joint problems

1. Clenching/Grinding Teeth

Stress is the most common reason for this. When clenching and grinding all day/night, the jaw muscles become overworked. Then, people wake up in the morning with a diffused soreness up and down the jaw muscles because the muscles worked overtime while they tightened their jaws and squeezed their teeth together. This can cause wear on teeth.

How to treat it:  Remove the factor causing it. Often, it’s family or work--which are hard to remove. Fortunately, exercises like yoga and meditating can help you relieve stress.

We can make a night guard, which looks like a thick retainer, giving your teeth a protective barrier. By propping your mouth open with that barrier, the muscles won’t clench, grind, and work so hard.

2. Bad Habits

If you constantly chew on a pencil, put your fingers in your mouth, or chew gum 18 hours a day, you’re overworking the jaw muscles. You feel clicking or popping when you open and close the jaw joint, because you have a disc that connects the upper base of the skull to the lower jaw. The disc is filled with fluid allowing the jaw to slide past the joint without friction. When you overuse your jaw, the disc stretches and pulls in different directions. That popping comes from the disc after it’s been pulled in the wrong direction. In severe cases, after yawning, the mouth can get stuck open or closed due to improper placement and position of the disc.

How to treat it: We manually manipulate the jaws so they open or close again.

3. Teeth aren’t in the Proper Position

If the teeth fit together properly, they protect each other. The jaw joint directs the lower jaw to fit in a certain place. But, problems occur when the jaw puts the mouth in a situation where teeth aren’t stable. If the teeth are in a bad position, it will stretch the ligaments and muscles, moving that disc out of place. Over time, you’ll experience clicking, popping, and pain.

How to treat it: A special appliance takes the teeth out of the equation. By wearing the appliance, thicker than a retainer, you allow the lower jaw to stabilize. You could see a response in a few days to a week. Others need to wear these appliances for a few weeks to a few months.

As the jaw routinely stabilizes, the muscles aren’t overstretched and overacting. At that point, we can create a long-term fix by moving the teeth to where the jaw wants to be. If the jaw wants to move over and the teeth won’t let it, we move the teeth so their positions are coincidental. This relieves the stretching and overuse of the jaw muscles and ligaments.

If you’ve experienced any of these jaw problems, consider contacting an orthodontist. At Beecroft Orthodontics you will find all the necessary help you will ever need to get rid of your jaw and all related oral problems. Contact them today.

Beecroft Orthodontics, 10472 Georgetown Dr. Fredericksburg, Virginia

Phone: 540-898-2200

TMJ: It’s not a Disorder but a Bone

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