What is “TMJ”?


“TMJ” stands for Temporo-Mandibular Joint.  This refers to the joint function of your lower jaw (mandible) and it’s attachment at the skull (temporal process).  Must people and some professionals will use the term “TMJ” when referring to problems or symptoms associated with the jaw.  There is no universally agreed upon term for people who suffer jaw problems.  Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD or TMJ Disorder) is commonly used at our practice.  But what does that all really mean?

TMD is actually a title heading for three distinct problem areas.  The first is skeletal or anatomic problems.  This could be related to misalignment of the bones of the jaw due to tumors or overgrowth in certain areas of the jaw, malocclusion or misalignment of the teeth, or skeletal degeneration as is common with arthritic problems.  Anatomic problems can be skeletal or soft tissue based.  The most common soft tissue abnormality is the misalignment or displacement of the cartilaginous “disc” of the joint.  The small area of cartilage is typically situated between the bones of the skull and the bones of the lower jaw to allow for smooth function during movements like chewing, talking and opening wide.  The cartilage being out of position can lead to trauma of the tissue which results in a decrease in range of motion and sometimes pain.

The second distinct problem associated with the TMD title is musculoskeletal disorders of the jaw.  Examples of this type of problem would be muscle spasm or strain, parafunctional habits such as grinding your teeth or clenching, and myofacial pain disorder.  This category is primarily inflammatory in nature and can usually be managed non-surgically.  However, often the underlying cause of this subset of problems may be related to an underlying anatomic issue causing the muscles to be overworked leading to strain.  Most sufferers of TMD will display signs of symptoms that can be a combination of these first two categories.

The third and final problem group that is associated with the TMD title is nerve or sensory problems.  These are very difficult to diagnose by nature but can involve problems such as migraine or other varieties of headaches, atypical facial pain syndromes, neuralgia, or certain tics of the facial region.  These diagnoses are typically made via exclusion.  This means that we try and be sure that one of the other, more likely, causes of pain is not the issue prior to diagnosing a particular nerve disorder.  These are usually handled by referral to a neurologist or facial pain specialist as the treatment and pain management for these conditions is often difficult.  At Pottstown Oral and Maxillofacial we are proud to offer a wide variety of surgical and nonsurgical treatments for TMD sufferers.  Accurate diagnosis of the condition is the first step in finding the right treatment and a consultation with one of our Board Certified Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons is a good first step.