I stumbled across TMJ when I needed treat a literal pain in the neck that would not go away. It seemed that the pain in my neck came from my jaws. "TMJ" refers to disorders of the jaw muscles and of the temporomandibular joint, the hinge at the side of the head that joins the lower jaw, mandible, to the temporal bone of the skull. TMJ expert John Taddey, D.D.S. states that one the most common symptoms of TMJ is a dull, aching pain around the ears which can radiate to the neck, shoulders, and back of the head. These symptoms may be coupled with tenderness of the jaw muscles and a headache.
While the causes of TMJ are many, the condition is usually the result of a collective malfunctioning of the chewing muscles, the teeth, and the temporomandibular joint. The face and jaw muscles may go into spasm or cramp and lead to tissue damage, pain and tenderness. The level of damage and pain varies.
Diaganosing TMJ can be elusive. Recognizing TMJ requires a thorough understanding of the two-inch area just in front of the ears that houses the temporomandibular joint, sinuses, glands, the middle and inner ears, throat tissues, brain tissue, muscles, ligaments, nerves blood vessels, lymphatic tissues, bones and teeth. TMJ can mask itself with a "referred pain". This occurs when pain felt in one area of the body originated from another source. For example, you may visit your doctor with an earache and find your ear is healthy, while a decayed tooth or TMJ is the root cause of the earache.
TMJ can arise form trauma, whiplash, stress, teeth-grinding and clenching, misaligned teeth, missing or sore teeth, muscle abuse, infection, diseases of the joints such as arthritis, and cancer.
Your family dentist should be able to recognize TMJ. Depending on your condition, she may treat the TMJ herself or refer you to a physician, orthodontist, chiropractor, psychologist or oral surgeon for more specialized treatment.