What Is TMJ Syndrome, Anyway?
The first symptom you may notice is that you can't eat a Big Mac anymore; it's just too big for your mouth.
Or you have a headache and your shoulders are stiff; the pain fluctuates from bothersome to excruciating.
Or chewing gum becomes torture, and you find yourself ordering soup and yogurt.
These are some of the signs of a TMJ disorder.
The term is a catchall for a variety of disorders relating to the temporomandibular joint-or TMJ-of the jaw.
The TMJ, which lies just in front of the ears, is a complex system of bone, cartilage, muscle and nerve that when working properly gives the jaw tremendous versatility and strength.
When the joint is abused by teeth grinding, injured by a blow to the jaw or head, or weakened by age, jaw pain can result. Stress, trauma, a bad bite, or arthritis can strain the jaw beyond design.
Dentists are more familiar today than in previous generations with the symptoms: jaw clicking, jaw popping, migraine, headache and the causes and treatments for the complex disorders.
A more stressful society is also taking its physical toll. The most dramatic research shows one in five Americans suffer from some degree of TMJ disorder. More conservative estimates put the number at one in 10.
However, many of those cases only may reveal themselves through a rather benign clicking or popping in the jaw.
In turn, the treatments prescribed by TMJ treatment clinics range from counseling and psychological therapy to splints and, in severe cases, surgery.