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Temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ) is the name given to a group of symptoms that cause pain in the head, face, and jaw. The symptoms include headaches, soreness in the chewing muscles, and clicking or stiffness of the joints.
TMJ syndrome, which is also sometimes called TMJ disorder, results from pressure on the facial nerves due to muscle tension or abnormalities of the bones in the area of the hinge joint between the lower jaw and the temporal bone. This hinge joint is called the temporomandibular joint. There are two temporomandibular joints, one on each side of the skull just in front of the ear. The temporal bone is the name of the section of the skull bones where the jawbone (the mandible) is connected. The jawbone is held in place by a combination of ligaments, tendons, and muscles. The temporomandibular joint also contains a piece of cartilage called a disc, which keeps the temporal bone and the jawbone from rubbing against each other. The jaw pivots at the joint area in front of the ear. The pivoting motion of the jaw is complicated because it can move downward and from side to side as well as forward. Anything that causes a change in shape or functioning of the temporomandibular joint will cause pain and other symptoms.
TMJ syndrome has several possible physical causes:
In addition to the physical causes of TMJ, dentists are increasingly recognizing the importance of psychosocial factors in the disorder. One recent finding is the importance of the patient's concept of pain itself. People who are already suffering from depression or an anxiety disorder, people who have little social support in their lives, and people who feel that they have little control over their lives are at greater risk of developing chronic pain syndromes, including TMJ.
In many cases TMJ results from a combination of psychological, anatomical, and functional factors rather than a single abnormality.
The symptoms of TMJ depend in part on its cause or causes. The most common symptoms are facial pain in front of the ears; headaches; sore jaw muscles; a clicking sound when chewing; a grating sensation when opening and closing the mouth; and temporary locking of the jaw. Some patients also report a sensation of buzzing or ringing
Author Info: Paula Ford-Martin, Rebecca J. Frey PhD, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, 2005
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