TMJ: What it Does and Problems That Can Occur

by Dr. Diane Hourigan

TMJ is an acronym for the temporomandibular joint, which is the joint located at the base of the skull that connects the lower jaw with the upper jaw. Considering how often we use this joint over the course of a given day to talk, chew, and even breathe, it should come as no surprise that about a third of all Americans will at some point complain of pain in their TMJ.

Dr. Diane Hourigan can help treat discomfort in the TMJ, but before making any decisions about undergoing such treatment, it is important that patients understand exactly what the TMJ does and how it works.

How Does the TMJ Work?

Put as simply as possible, the TMJ is the most complex joint in the entire human body, in part because it is comprised of three distinct parts, and in part because of the complex way it moves in relation to your teeth for all sorts of different purposes.

There are two ways the TMJ works to open your mouth. It can act as a hinge to simply open and close your mouth, or it could initiate a move called translation, where the lower jaw moves down and forward or side to side to eat, sing, or yawn.

What Problems Can Occur to the TMJ?

Every single joint in the human body can get worn out over time, but in the most severe cases, the TMJ can be displaced or could fracture, swell, or generate pain at the location of the joint, which is right beneath the ear. These fractures are rare, but any sort of inflammation can be incredibly uncomfortable. Even worse, anti-inflammatory drugs don’t always work as well as they do with joints in the knees, elbows, and hands.

In other instances, grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw can harm your TMJ, and while this may ultimately be caused by stress, the impact on the TMJ can be very painful.

How Does One Treat TMJ Pain?

The good news is that surgery only is required in the most extreme cases. It is rare that TMJ problems would come to that point, and Dr. Diane Hourigan offers solutions that are much more affordable and less invasive.

After receiving an evaluation and a diagnosis, Dr. Hourigan can fit patients for occlusal mouth guards to minimize pressure on the TMJ and protect your maxillofacial structure and your teeth. These mouth guards are custom-built for each individual patient based on whatever problem may be causing the TMJ pain, whether that be muscle spasms, improperly-angled front teeth, uneven molar biting surfaces, overbites and underbites, or some sort of jaw injury. Whatever the cause, we can provide TMJ treatment that will relieve the pain.

Schedule an Appointment

TMJ disorders are inconvenient and uncomfortable, which is why getting in to see Dr. Hourigan as soon as you experience any pain in your jaw is a great idea. The sooner you have the problem diagnosed and begin treatment, the more likely you are to find yourself relieved of the pain. Then you can eat, talk, yawn and even sing the way you did before you began experiencing pain in that joint.