Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD)
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the jaw joint. Problems of jaw joint function and the associated jaw muscles are sometimes referred to as 'TMJ syndrome'. This is a common clinical condition that predominantly affects young female patients but it can affect both males and females in different age groups. Patients frequently present with concerns regarding jaw joint noises (clicking), painful chewing movements, episodes of jaw joint locking and possibly spontaneous facial pain or tooth sensitivity.
The causes of jaw joint disorders are varied. Current research suggest that most disorders of jaw joint and muscle function are in fact the result of a number of different factors interacting together. These factors include joint or facial injury, excessive tooth clenching and grinding, abnormalities of growth and development, misalignment of teeth and abnormal habits of jaw use (chewing gum, biting finger nails, thumb sucking, etc).
Most TMJ problems are easily managed. Simple treatments include jaw exercises, anti-inflammatory medication, and the use of plastic mouth appliances called 'bite splints'. The avoidance of abnormal jaw movement habits is important for patients who need to rest a painful jaw joint. More complex treatments include the use of muscle relaxants, jaw muscle and jaw joint injections and, as a last resort, jaw joint surgery.
Some of the more painful disorders of the mouth and face are included in this category. Trigeminal neuralgia is a condition which usually affects patients over the age of 50. It is characterised by the experience of sudden sharp pain which has an electrical quality, affecting either the right or left side of the mouth and face. On occasions the intensity of this pain is extreme, resulting in emotional distress and lifestyle disruption. Because of its location in various parts of the mouth and face, this important nerve disorder can mimic ordinary toothaches and common dental disorders.
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