January 01, 2019

A pain in the jaw

Temporomandibular disorders

The hallmark of temporomandibular disorder is facial pain, which may occur in the jaw, in the area in front of the ear or in one or both temporomandibular joints. Pain with chewing is common.

Temporomandibular disorders

You love the satisfying crunch of a handful of almonds and enjoy them as a healthy snack most days. But lately that crunch has become a pain in the jaw. In fact, the discomfort has been coming up periodically, but most often while you're eating.

What you're experiencing may be a temporomandibular (tem-puh-roeman- DIB-u-lar) disorder — often due to problems with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). In most cases, the discomfort from these disorders is temporary and can be relieved with self-care. But persistent pain may require further evaluation and treatment.

A complex joint

The TMJ connects your jawbone (mandible) to the temporal bone on each side of your skull. Muscles and ligaments surrounding the joints control the position and movement of your jaw. A small shock-absorbing disk separates the two bones, helping to keep movements smooth. To allow for the jaw to move both up and down and side to side, the joint functions as a hinge and with sliding motions.

Because of the complexity of how this part of the body operates, problems often occur. It's estimated that between 5 and 12 percent of people will experience a temporomandibular disorder.

What causes the pain

Temporomandibular disorders typically stem from dysfunction in one of two places — the joint or the muscles. In some cases, both may be involved.

Trauma to the jaw or TMJ plays a role in some temporomandibular disorders. The shock-absorbing disk may erode or move out of alignment, or the TMJ itself may...