Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, commonly referred to as TMD, is a dysfunction of the temporomandibular joint (where the lower jaw hinges to the skull). This joint dictates the movement of your lower jaw. Often times the reason for this dysfunction or pain is that the head of the joint is located too far back in the space where it hinges to the skull (fossa). This causes an impingement or pressing on all the surrounding nerves and blood vessels that provide nourishment and movement to the joint. This abnormal location often causes ringing or “stuffiness” in the ears, a common sign of TMD. The impingement of these nerves and the inability of the joint to move freely can trigger chronic inflammation of the muscles of the face.
When inflammation is present in the muscles of the face, patients experience difficulty in opening wide or pain when chewing. The use of a daytime or night-time bite splint helps to move the jaw forward and alleviate the pressure on those nerves at the back of the joint socket. When this situation exists, interestingly enough, the tongue is also pushed more posterior thus causing snoring and sleep apnea, in many cases. The crossover between sleep apnea and TMD has been well documented. It’s important to evaluate the position of the jaw joint to restore the health of the TMJ, relieve the inflammation of the facial muscles, and keep the airway space open.
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