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Jaw Disorders

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the area directly in front of the ear on either side of the head where the upper jaw (maxilla) and lower jaw (mandible) meet. Within the TMJ, there are moving parts that allow the upper jaw to close on the lower jaw. This joint is a typical sliding "ball and socket" that has a disc sandwiched between it. The TMJ is used throughout the day to move the jaw, especially in biting and chewing, talking, and yawning. It is one of the most frequently used joints of the body.

TMJ disorders are a group of complex problems of the jaw joint. TMJ disorders are also sometimes referred to as myofacial pain dysfunction and Costen's syndrome. Because muscles and joints work together, a problem with either one can lead to stiffness, headaches, ear pain, bite problems (malocclusion), clicking sounds or locked jaws. The following are behaviours or conditions that can lead to TMJ disorders

  • Teeth grinding and teeth clenching (bruxism) increase the wear on the cartilage lining of the TMJ. Those who grind or clench their teeth may be unaware of this behaviour unless they are told by someone observing this pattern while sleeping or by a dental professional noticing telltale signs of wear and tear on the teeth. Many patients awaken in the morning with jaw or ear pain.
  • Habitual gum chewing or fingernail biting
  • Dental problems and misalignment of the teeth (malocclusion). Patients may complain that it is difficult to find a comfortable bite or that the way their teeth fit together has changed. Chewing on only one side of the jaw can lead to or be a result of TMJ problems.
  • Trauma to the jaws: Previous fractures in the jaw or facial bones can lead to TMJ disorders.
  • Stress frequently leads to unreleased nervous energy. It is very common for people under stress to release this nervous energy by either consciously or unconsciously grinding and clenching their teeth.
  • Occupational tasks such as holding the telephone between the head and shoulder may contribute to TMJ disorders

Jaw disorders are more prominent in females than in males. Women are mostly affected between puberty and menopause.


  • Headache: 80% patients suffer headache and about 40% facial pain. The sensation occurs upon opening and closing of mouth. Exposure to cold weather increases the pain.
  • Ear pain: It can be a symptom of TMJ disorder or ear infection.
  • Sounds: Grinding, crunching or popping sounds are common for patients with TMJ disorder.
  • Dizziness: Vague dizziness or imbalance is usually reported.
  • Fullness of the Ear: Patients describe it as muffled, clogged or full ears.
  • Ringing in the Ear: Patients experience noise or ringing.
  • Facial pain
  • Swelling on the side of the face and/or mouth
  • Deviation of the jaw to one side

These disorders can get worse if left unattended. Exercise protocols, habit control and splinting should be the first line of treatment, leaving oral surgery as a last resort for the most recalcitrant cases where other therapeutic modalities have failed.

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Indian Dental Association
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