(Special note to patients – this subject can be very complicated and is meant to inform you of the complexity of self-diagnosis. We seriously advise you to seek the help of a professional in this area. Consult your dental professional for further advice.)
TMJ is not a medical condition; it is a joint that articulates the lower jaw to the base of the skull. The lower jaw that articulates with a disk that articulates with the skull is called the condyle. There is a disk between the rounded joint and the base of the skull, so unless you have a worn disk, there will not be direct bone to bone contact. The condyles can come under extreme stress when the mouth is crushing food; the patient is clenching or grinding or oral habits like nail-biting, chewing gum, and trauma. A small muscle attaches in the front part of the disk and pulls it forward when the lower jaw translates forward, and damage to the disk or slipping of the disk compromises the area between the muscle and the disk and causes pain.
Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD)
Any disorder to the condyles, disk, or muscles supporting chewing is called temporomandibular disorder (TMD), and this is the correct way to talk about problems in this area. TMD can strike at any time in life but seems to show up after a traumatic event or during a time of increased stress. Close to 90 percent of TMD results from muscle spasms and can be corrected with physical therapy, bite splints, and medications. The remaining disorders may have to be treated surgically or may continue as part of a systemic condition such as arthritis.
Headaches and Facial Pains
TMD can also trigger other headaches as your body recruits other muscles to move the head and neck. Headaches can also come from referred pain from areas called “trigger points.” Infections, high blood pressure, trauma, bouts of migraine, tumors, teeth coming together in negative ways (malocclusion), and other physiological processes can all cause headaches. Your dentist may request tests, refer you to a specialist, or try to treat dental conditions that may aggravate your situation. To rule out a tumor, you will need to pay attention to pain in the head and neck region of non-dental origin.
Facial pain refers to any conditions that cause abnormal and painful conditions in the head and neck region. Some dentists limit their practice to this area, and they are very well informed and can diagnose and treat many conditions. Many medical specialists specialize in treating chronic pain, and they use many forms of therapy to help patients.
Chronic pain often has a psychological component, so referral to a professional for counseling is not uncommon when treating facial pain.