During the holiday season, there are many joyous sounds to hear, from carols to conversation with friends and family. However, for people with temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ), there are also many sounds that don’t invoke a feeling of joy. In fact, they can be ominous.
Here are some of the most common sounds associated with TMJ, and what they might mean for your jaw condition.
One of the most common sounds people with TMJ experience is popping or clicking when opening and closing the jaw. This is related to a type of TMJ called disc displacement. Understanding disc displacement means understanding the anatomy of your jaw joint. The temporomandibular joint is made of the mandible (jaw bone) and the temporal bone in the skull. Between these two bones is a disc of cartilage that cushions the bones and keeps them from grinding against each other. The temporomandibular joint is a slip hinge, which lets it move more than most joints in the body. The unique freedom of this joint means it has special anatomical features, including a freer attachment between the cushioning disc and the bones. Trauma or dysfunction can loosen the disc still more. This lets the disc slip out of place, which is usually soundless, though you might notice irregular motion.
When the disc slips back into place, it creates a popping sound. You might notice irregular jaw motion at this point, too.
Not all disc displacement leads to serious TMJ. However, it can cause problems if not properly dealt with. Over time, the disc might have more difficulty slipping back into place. For many people, the disc stops going back into place. This leads to restricted jaw motion, even locked jaw–the inability to move your jaw at all. If you do experience locked jaw, don’t try to force it. Contact a TMJ dentist for emergency help. A TMJ dentist and their team know how to safely coax the disc back into place without further injury to your joint.
In addition to locked jaw, a displaced disc can contribute to jaw grinding, which you might also hear.
Another sound people often hear with TMJ is a grinding or scraping in the jaw. This is often called crepitus, and it’s a warning sign that your jaw might be experiencing degenerative damage. A grinding or scraping sound in the jaw is likely a sign that the bones are grinding against one another. This happens when the cushioning disc between the bones is out of place. You might hear it in opposition with your popping or clicking sounds.The disc might silently slip out of place, then you hear the grinding sound, which stops after the disc slips back into place.
For other people, grinding takes over when the popping or clicking stops. In other words, the cushioning disc has stopped slipping back into place, and the bones grind against one another all day long. Bone grinding in the jaw joint can be very serious. Over time, the bones grind each other down to the point where your jaw joint can no longer function. In addition, the grinding can release sharp bone fragments that irritate the soft tissue of the joint, leading to swelling and serious pain.
It’s important to seek professional care rapidly when you hear the grinding in your jaw joint. Left untreated, this condition might leave you with no treatment options but jaw joint surgery, which has a high risk of complications and a low rate of success.
Tinnitus is often called “ringing in the ears,” but it isn’t always ringing. It can be a roar, buzz, or hum. People describe the sound in subjective terms. Ear symptoms are very common, occurring in about 80% of people with TMJ. Other ear symptoms that occur with TMJ include:
You may or may not experience other ear symptoms along with your tinnitus. Why TMJ causes tinnitus is a little mysterious, in part because we don’t understand tinnitus that well. One possible explanation is that several of the muscles in the ear are linked to your jaw muscles. TMJ often causes excess tension in the jaw muscles, which could make the ear muscles tense, creating certain sounds inside your ear. Most people with TMJ-related tinnitus can change the sound by moving their jaws. If your jaw motion increases the volume or pitch of your tinnitus, it’s more likely that it’s linked to TMJ.
Although many forms of tinnitus cannot be treated, TMJ-related tinnitus will improve or cease with TMJ treatment.
Jaw sounds are not just a nuisance. They are signs that your jaw is not functioning properly. Often, they are related to jaw damage that may be happening right now. Left untreated, these conditions can worsen, leading to painful disability that has few good treatment options.
However, early treatment can head off future problems to help you enjoy a healthy, happy, and quiet life. For an evaluation of your jaw sounds and potential TMJ, schedule an appointment with TMJ dentist Dr. Martin Martirossian. Please call (201) 546-8512 or email us today to schedule your consultation.
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