What Is the Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ)?
The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, is a small joint located in front of the ear where the skull and lower jaw meet. This joint allows the lower jaw (mandible) to move and function and is the most consistently used joint in the body. The TMJ is a “ball and socket” joint, and the round end, or “ball” portion, is called the condyle; the socket is called the articular fossa. Between the condyle and the fossa is a disc made of cartilage that acts as a cushion to absorb stress and allow the condyle to move easily when the mouth opens and closes.
At the back of the joint, the disc attaches to tissue that contains nerves and blood vessels and can be quite sensitive. Ligaments hold the disc and condyle in place, and muscles surrounding the TMJ also help stabilise the joint as well as move the lower jaw during chewing, speaking, and other functions.
The teeth themselves are also important for proper TMJ function, because if they don’t fit together properly, stresses can be generated that can displace the condyle and damage the disc, ligaments, and muscles. Trauma can also damage the TMJ and inhibit proper function.
When all of the elements of the TMJ are in harmony and working properly, the joint operates smoothly and without problems. However, TMJ disorders can develop if these elements are not functioning as they should, or if stresses, trauma, or other factors generate TMJ problems.
Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders are not uncommon. Individuals with a TMJ disorder may experience a variety of symptoms, such as earaches, headaches, and limited ability to open their mouth.
Some TMJ problems can be treated surgically. The procedure can involve rinsing the joint (arthrocentesis and lavage), using a small telescope to look into and free up the joint (arthroscopic lysis and lavage) and, in rare cases, surgery to reshape the joint and remove any disease that may be present (arthroplasty).
At Geelong Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, we can assess your joint problem and advise you as to whether you would benefit from surgery.
If you are a nonsurgical candidate, referrals can be made back to your dentist or our oral medicine specialist for nonsurgical management of your TMJ problem.
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