The TMJ(Temporomandibular Joint) or TMD(Temporomandibular Disorder) is so unique and different from other joints in the body that a disturbance in its complex function can often cause problems. The top portion of the jaw is called the condyle and it looks like a ball. This ball fits into a socket that is positioned in the skull. When your mouth is closed, the ball is completely seated in this socket. As you begin to open your mouth, the ball rotates in the socket. As you continue to open your mouth wider, the ball leaves the socket and begins to slide down a ramp that is directly in front of the socket. You can feel this happen if you touch the area directly in front of your ear and open slowly.
Clenching or grinding your teeth can cause symptoms. One of the most common causes of morning headaches is clenching or grinding your teeth at night. Patients do not always know they are doing this because they are asleep.
There are many muscles involved with the opening and closing of your jaw. When this complex system is not functioning properly, it can cause pain. Muscle dysfunction is the number one cause of TMJ related pain.
The disk or cushion that is seated on top of the ball can become damaged or displaced. This can be a cause of TMJ disorders. If the disk is damaged or displaced, the bone of the jaw can grind directly on the bone of the skull and cause pain or limit function.
Trauma to the jaw can create immediate symptoms that can easily be diagnosed. But many times the trauma sets off a long and slow deterioration of the joint that may not have symptoms for years. Incidents like a car accident are easy for patients to remember when recalling their history. But many times, it can be something like a soccer ball in the face or flying over the handlebars and hitting the ground that can initiate the breakdown.