Sometimes the cause of unusual pain in the jaw, ear and neck, the Temporo-Mandibular Joint is the joint where the mandible, or lower jaw, joins the temporal bone of the skull, immediately in front of the ear. A small disk of cartilage separates the bones, much like in the knee joint, so that the mandible may slide easily. If you are typical, you use this joint hundreds or thousands of times a day – when you talk, eat and swallow. It is one of the most frequently used of all joints of the body and one of the most complex.
Aggravation of this joint can cause headache or toothache. General and localized pain may be sharp and searing or dull and constant. It may be localized in the ear or jaw or radiate into the temple, cheek and neck. The joint can actually lock in the open or closed position or make popping and clicking sounds when the disk snaps. Ringing in the ears can also be a symptom.
In most patients, TMJ dysfunction is a result of displacement of the cartilage disk, causing pressure and stretching of the associated sensory nerves. Both major and minor trauma to the jaw can significantly contribute to this problem, as well as clenching, gritting or grinding of teeth, with the resulting wear and tear on the cartilage lining of the joint. Many people are unaware that they may grind their teeth while sleeping.
Symptoms of TMJ syndrome should be evaluated and a treatment regimen established in order to prevent further deterioration and discomfort.