The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint holding the jawbone to the skull. It is considered one of the most intricate joints in the bone, requiring the bones, ligaments and muscles to function properly. The joint works when talking, chewing, yawning and even for clenching the teeth under stress. A TMJ disorder refers to problems that affect the joint and impair its function.
TMJ is a common oral condition that can lead to debilitating pain. Since many conditions can cause TMJ disorder, the precise cause is sometimes unknown. Unless the symptoms of the problem appear abruptly, it may require a few episodes to realize the underlying problem that intermittently flares up and causes pain and other symptoms. Some of the potential causes of TMJ disorders are explained below:
Teeth grinding or clenching, also called bruxism, is one of the common causes of TMJ disorders. The repetitive habit is sometimes caused by stress and other psychological factors and may cause sleep and mood disorders. Teeth grinding may result in teeth deterioration, internal disruption of the TMJ, TMJ muscle strain, spasm and fatigue (facial pain and dysfunction). Bruxism is often an involuntary behavior, like when it happens while sleeping or in deep thoughts.
Bite abnormalities such as anterior open bite, crossbite, protrusion of the upper front teeth, missing teeth or faulty dental prosthesis can cause TMJ disorders. Improper bite function places undue stress on the muscles and ligaments of the TMJ (especially when biting or chewing), impairing their function and causing pain.
The syndrome is used to describe the adverse effects of repeatedly chewing on one side of the teeth. With time, the pressure on the temporomandibular joint on the non-chewing part may increase, as well as an alteration in the structure of the condylar cartilage.
TMJ can also be affected by arthritis, which could be traumatic, degenerative, rheumatoid, chronic or infectious. Internal disruptions of the articular disc of the TMJ are common in most types of arthritis. As the jaw clicks, there may be a grating sound as the bones rub against each other, worsening the condition.
Trauma or blunt force to the TMJ resulting from a fall or auto accident can cause misaligned teeth, fracture of the mandibular condyle and whiplash injury to the joint. External trauma can result in fusion, fibrous adhesions and other disorders that may impair the balance of the temporomandibular joint.
Other causes of TMJ disorder include the estrogen hormone, which can cause a cartilaginous collapse in the TMJ, resulting in TMJ disorders in some people. Hypermobility or hypomobility of the TMJ, shortage of blood supply to the TMJ, bone resorption in the TMJ, previous surgery in the TMJ or nearby structures, ankylosing spondylitis and genetic factors are all possible causes of TMJ disorders.
If you are experiencing TMJ pain, consult a dentist. Diagnosis is crucial for successful treatment. The dentist will perform a comprehensive evaluation to determine the cause of the TMJ disorder.
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