The letters TMJ are short for ‘temporo-mandibular joint’, which is the joint connecting your lower jaw to your skull. If your teeth do not fit together properly or if there is an imbalance between where your teeth bite together and where your jaw joints have their rest position, problems might occur. These problems are called ‘occlusal’ problems or some people call it ‘TMJ problems’.
These problems can be seen on the teeth, gums, temporo-mandibular joint or the muscles that move the jaw:
Teeth that are out of line, heavily worn (from clenching and grinding) or constantly breaking, fillings or teeth that fracture or crowns that work loose may all be signs of occlusal problems. Your teeth may also be tender to bite or may ache constantly.
Loose teeth or receding gums can be made worse by an incorrect bite.
Clicking, grinding or pain in the jaw joints, ringing or buzzing in your ears and difficulty in opening or closing your mouth could all be due to your teeth not meeting each other properly.
If your jaw is slightly in the wrong position, the muscles that move the jaw have to work a lot harder and can get tired. This leads to muscle spasm. The main symptoms are continual headaches or migraine; pain behind the eyes; sinus pain and pains in the neck and shoulders. Sometimes even back muscles are involved.
Many people have imperfect occlusion and missing teeth, yet never have symptoms because they adjust to their problems. Occasionally, symptoms may appear and then go away again. A sure sign of ‘occlusal’ problems are grinding or clenching of the teeth. Nine out of ten people who grind aren’t aware of it but your dentist should be able to see the signs on your teeth.
Dr Charl du Toit has a special interest in treating TMJ problems. He is a member of the ‘British Society of Occlusal Studies’. www.bsos.org.uk