People don’t like going to the dentist or an oral doctor mainly because they’re unreasonably afraid of what they’re going to be told is wrong with their teeth. More often than not an oral checkup ends with some preventative care tips and you being told to floss a little more. Of course, in the time that people spend avoiding these check-ups, that preventative professional maintenance becomes stalled and complications can arise.
You’ve likely heard of TMJ disorder in some facet or another, but it’s one of the more common jaw problems. Up there with problems related to wisdom teeth, TMJ disorder is a collection of jaw conditions related to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Approximately one half to two-thirds of people with TMJ disorders will look for treatment, and some 15% of these patients will have TMJD chronically. But, what is it? We’ve got the facts.
Translating some dentalese
Firstly, maxillofacial is a term that simply refers to anything having to do with the jaw and face. Combining the Latin term “maxilla”, meaning “jaw”, and the English term “face”. Pretty straightforward, right? We wish it was always the case. The temporomandibular joint connects the lower jaw (mandible) to the skull (temporal bone). When this joint isn’t lining up and playing nice with its surroundings, it can become problematic.
TMJD is caused a few different ways but boils down to the joint being damaged in some facet. Some of the most common TMJ issues that exacerbate the disorder are teeth grinding, clenching, bad chewing habits, and consistent jawline misalignment. TMJD presents itself with aches and pains, sore jaw muscles, headaches, and sometimes jaw popping and locking. Most cases are relatively mild and can be treated with simple at-home remedies like ice/heat packs, self-massage, and jaw stretching.
TMJ disorder is sly and hides very well. Many patients go years without knowing they have a TMJ disorder, which is why having professional consultations is prudent if you suspect jaw problems. Just because a seemingly light case of TMJD isn’t as painful or immediate as impacted wisdom teeth doesn’t mean it should be neglected. Maxillofacial issues related to TMJD are subtle in that they don’t present immediate problems, but make way for increased risk of future oral complications. It’s an easy disorder to address and the time you take to nip TMJD in the bud will save you from impending headaches, literally and figuratively.