What Does It Mean to be High Risk for TMJ Problems?

What is the TMJ?

The TMJ is arguably the most complicated joint in the body.  It is a ball-in-socket joint, just like your shoulder and hip joints.  The complicated part is that during normal function, the ball comes out of the socket!

The “ball” of the joint is the condyle of the mandible (lower jaw).  You can usually feel the condyle. It feels like a small bony bump right in front of your ear that moves when you open and close your mouth.

The “socket” is an upside-down depression on your skull that the ball fits into.

Between the ball and the socket is a small cartilage disc.  It separates the bones, just like the discs in your back between the vertebrae.  The disc protects the bones and moves with the ball as you open and close your mouth.

Why Do So Many People Have Problems with their TMJs?

There are several reasons that TMJ problems are so common.

  1. It is a complicated joint, and it is fairly easy for problems to happen.
  2. The TMJs are joints we use constantly for speaking, eating, smiling, laughing, etc . . . Some people even use the joints all night by clenching or grinding their teeth.
  3. Injuries to the head and neck are common with sports, auto accidents, and even in conflicts. Any impact to the head and neck can damage the TMJs.
  4. Bad habits, like clenching or grinding your teeth, cause consistent microtrauma, which adds up over time to worsen the joints’ health.

What Things Make You High Risk?

Many different factors put people at risk for problems with the TMJs.  The list includes, but is not limited to:

  • Weak joints – Any predisposition to joint problems will weaken the TMJs and make them more likely to suffer problems over your lifetime. This includes things like arthritis, degenerative joint disease, and hormonal joint problems.
  • Any prior trauma to the head and neck – There is a high prevalence of TMJ problems among people with a history of sports or cheerleading injuries, auto accident injuries, or any blows to the head and neck.
  • Growth defects or problems – In some cases, the joints do not grow properly and develop small, weak condyles that cannot withstand the necessary forces of the jaws.
  • Clenching/grinding your teeth – As noted above, these bad habits are considered “microtrauma”. This means the joint is sustaining small injuries consistently over a long period of time.  Eventually, the small injuries add up to cause a big problem.

How Do I Know if I am High Risk?

There are many different symptoms of TMJ disorder or dysfunction.  Some patients experience no symptoms at all because they have adapted to a weak or dysfunctional joint.  If you do have symptoms, they may occur only on one side or on both.  Some of the symptoms you could experience include:

  • Pain in your facial muscles, headaches or neck pain
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Pain or discomfort in the joints right in front of your ears
  • Pain on opening your mouth wide or moving it side to side
  • Popping or clicking noises in your joint with you move your jaw
  • Gravelly or crunching sounds in your joint
  • Jaw locking closed, feeling like you cannot open your mouth
  • Jaw locking open, unable to close your mouth after opening wide

What Can I Do About It?

The first step is a proper diagnosis.  It is important to see a dentist who has been trained in diagnosis and treatment of TMJ problems.  You should also know that there is currently no board-certified specialty in the TMJ.  Any practitioner who advertises “TMJ Specialist” is self-proclaimed and has not received any special certification by a college or university.


Dr. Chowning has been trained in the diagnosis and treatment of TMJ problems by the esteemed Pankey Institute.  He will perform a thorough evaluation of your jaw joints, taking into account any symptoms you experience, and give you an accurate diagnosis.  There are many different treatment options available for managing TMJ problems, and they range from minor physical therapy exercises to wearing a mouthguard while you sleep to major TMJ surgery.

Have Problems with Your TMJ?

Call us today at 940-382-1750 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Chowning.  He will discuss all of your options and help you choose the treatment that will best manage your TMJ problems.

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