If you experience pain in your ear and feel like chewing and grinding constantly, then you are probably affected by TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorder. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the part of body that is directly in front of the ear canal on both sides of the head where the upper jaw and lower jaw join. The TMJ consists of many moving parts, which make scope for the upper jaw to close on the lower jaw. This joint is a usual sliding “ball and socket” joint, which has a disc in between the ball and the socket. This joint is functional when we move the jaw, bite or chew something, talk, or yawn. It is one of the most frequently used joints in the human body.
TMD (temporomandibular disorder) is the term that covers acute or chronic swelling of the temporomandibular joint and muscles surrounding it. The dysfunction that happens as a result of this condition may lead to a lot of pain and impairment. The exact cause of this condition is not known however, it is believed to have multi-factorial causes. These causes include overactivity of the jaw muscles, increased sensitivity of muscles to pain, wear and tear of the joint, or injury to the jaw. Since the disorder is beyond the demarcation of any one discipline of medicine in particular, like dentistry, neurology, physical therapy, and psychology, there are a number of different treatment approaches for this condition.
TMJ disorders can be grouped together to form a set of complex dysfunctions that are associated with the jaw joint. The common symptoms of TMJ disorder are:
- Most of the patients with TMD go through ear pains, without any visible sign of infection. The ear pain is generally felt in the front or below the ear. An ear infection can be distinguished clearly from a TMD, since there is hearing loss or ear discharge in case of an ear infection.
- Most of the patients also grind and clench their teeth, which leads to an increase in the wear and tear of the cartilage lining of the TMJ.
- There are patients who can hear a constant grinding, crunching, buzzing, or popping sounds that may be medically termed as crepitus. These sounds at times can be accompanied by increased pain.
- Some people may also experience dizziness or imbalance, something like vertigo.
- Few patients report a clicking sound while chewing or a jaw lock.
- The jaw movement may be reduced in some cases, which may give a general feeling of jaw being stuck or locked.
There are various ways to treat TMD, which include medications, heat, and ice therapy and also soft diet.
- An acrylic splint or mouth guard may be used to reduce or get rid of the grinding and clenching of the teeth. This mouth guard fits between the upper and lower teeth and prevents them from coming together. It is usually prescribed for the night but most of the patients use it throughout the day. The splint also helps to balance the bite.
- It is suggested to keep the jaws apart as long as possible so that teeth grinding can be avoided. Patients are also advised against chewing gum, and crunchy and chewy food items.
- Heat and ice therapy may also be used to reduce the muscle tension. This therapy also used in case of TMJ injury.
- If none of the aforementioned treatment options work then, the last resort is surgery wherein the ligaments may be tightened, the joints may be restructured and replaced. This is the last option and is only used in case of serious and severe injury.
This condition is mostly treated with the use of simple treatments, and may not require surgery. However, the symptoms should not be overlooked as they may cause a lot of discomfort.