Hi, this is Dr. Yohei Takada. Today we are talking about Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) disorders, which may not sound familiar. TMJ disorders are characterized by clicking of the jaw, misaligned jaw, limited or uncomfortable jaw movements, and jaw pain. If you have been chewing with one side of your mouth because of the jaw pain, this article is just for you. However, the jaw is not the only part affected by this condition. TMJ disorders are related to neck, skull (temporal bone), oral structure, facial nerves (trigeminal nerves), autonomic nervous systems, and even ear structure.
Despite its unfamiliarity, the statistic shows that about 75% of the Japanese population has experienced some symptoms of TMJ disorders, and 33% are actually diagnosable. Women are 2 to 3 times more likely to develop the condition than men. However, only 3.6-7% are actually receiving treatment. Here are some reasons behind this concerning statistic: limited public awareness, its non-specific symptoms, and limited medical expertise.
First of all, TMJ disorders have limited public awareness. Painless symptoms like jaw clicking and discomfort are often paid no attention. Misaligned jaws are left for decades, gradually developing into pain and other serious symptoms. It is important to raise awareness about mild symptoms and encourage people to seek treatment.
Secondly, its symptoms are non-specific. Again, symptoms of TMJ disorders could develop beyond jaw. The affected area has a connection to many systems, causing symptoms like ringing in ears, headache, neck pain, and so much more. Many people do not realize the symptoms they are experiencing come from a jaw problem.
Thirdly, TMJ disorders are not commonly known among medical professionals. When the condition is so severe that one requires surgery, a surgeon or a dentist may help. But the mild, painless symptoms are often ignored by medical professionals. Even my Physical Therapy textbook mentioned that about 70-80% of people experience clicks of the jaw and misaligned jaw and that these are normal findings. But when such symptoms can develop into a chronic shoulder, head, or jaw pain, are they really normal?
Some causes of TMJ disorders include misaligned bites, external injuries, bad posture, cervical spine conditions, breathing problems, teeth grinding, and muscle stiffness from stress. It is crucial to evaluate the right cause in order to fully fix the disorder. Common treatments like heat/cold therapy, NSAIDs, orthodontics, injections, or surgeries are rather a pain treatment than prevention. Early diagnosis and evaluation allow enough time to treat TMJ disorders using manual and functional techniques, which gives a very high chance of full recovery.
Various causes of TMJ disorders require personalized treatment plans. Do you identify with any of the symptoms listed above? Are you suffering from headache or shoulder pain unrelieved by massages? If so, we recommend you visit a therapist with expertise knowledge who can evaluate the cause and provide the right treatment.
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