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TMJ Anatomy: How it Works

January 31, 2019

Filed under: Dentistry — oxforddental @ 4:07 am

Clicking jaw is a medical term that refers to clicking sound that may be produced when the jaw is opened. You shouldn’t worry about an occasional click of the jaw. This is entirely normal for a highly flexible jaw joint structure.

Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Syndrome is a jaw joint disorder that typically causes severe, chronic, and debilitating pain for some individuals and only short-lived pain in others. To have a clear understanding of this disorder, as well as how to protect yourself from it, it is important to understand the anatomy of the TMJ itself.

The Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ)

The TMJ is commonly known as the jaw joint. It is bi-arthrodial hinge joint that facilitates the complex movements necessary for eating, swallowing, speaking, and yawning. Located anteriorly to the ear tragus, on the lateral aspect of the face, the TMJ is the most complex joint in your body, and you’ve got two of them.

One joint is on the right side and the other on the left. They work in tandem to facilitate movement of the lower jaw, technically known as the mandible. The TMJ is the only joint you have in your body that is designed to be both stable and unstable.

Namely, it’s the only joint that comes off its socket during a function. Its main components are the joint capsule, mandibular condyles, articular disc, the temporal bone’s articular surface, temporomandibular ligament, sphenomandibular ligament, stylomandibular ligament, and lateral pterygoid muscle.

How the TMJ Works

The temporomandibular joint works in two ways to facilitate the various functions of your mouth, as explained below:

  • Like a hinge – The TMJ works like a door’s hinge to open and close your mouth
  • Translation – This is a sliding motion whereby the mandible moves down and forward. Thanks to this motion, the TMJ can move backward and forward as well as from side to side to allow for eating, talking, yawning, singing, and other functions of the mouth.

TMJ Disorders

Statistics from the National Institute of Dental Craniofacial Research show that about 10 million people in the U.S. have some kind of problem with the TMJ. These problems are primarily attributed to the complex design of this joint.

It’s also worth noting that women are more prone to TMJ disorders than men. There could be two reasons for this:

  • The design of the articular disc is different in women
  • The TMJ may be affected by female hormones

TMJ complications could result from the trauma to the jaw caused by injury, prolonged grinding, stress-induced muscle spasms, misaligned teeth, or certain kinds of arthritis. Most TMJ issues usually go away by themselves.

Nonetheless, it’s important to contact your dentist whenever you notice the following symptoms:

  • Headaches
  • Stiffness in your face, neck, or jaw
  • Ringing in the eyes
  • Painful clicking or popping whenever you open or close your mouth
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Facial muscle pain
  • Neck pain
  • Pressure behind eyes and/or blurring of vision
  • Limited movement or locking of your jaw
  • Discomfort in the area surrounding the temporomandibular joints
  • Inability to place the width of your index, middle, and ring fingers into your mouth

If you experience any of the above symptoms, you’re likely suffering from a TMJ disorder. It’s worth noting that most of these symptoms could be associated with a completely different medical condition. Many remedies you read about online frequently won’t fix the TMJ problem.

It’s advisable to see your dentist. One of the most effective treatments for TMJ problems is massage therapy.  If jaw misalignment is due to how your teeth come together, massage will only ease the pain temporarily. If the joint is popping or clicking, it is a sign of displaced cartilage-like ‘disc’ of the joint.

In Summary

The temporomandibular (TMJ) joint is designed to facilitate the various movements of the lower jaw, which enable you to eat, talk, yawn, sing, etc. It works either as a hinge to open and close the mouth or through a sliding motion to facilitate eating, speaking, yawning, and other functions of the mouth. The joint is prone to various disorders that generally go away on their own. 

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