Temporomandibular disorders (TMJ/TMDs) are often called “TMJ” by doctors, patients and even insurance companies, although the term TMJ actually refers only to the jaw joints themselves.
TMD/TMJ describes a group of diseases that can involve the jaw joints, the muscles that control jaw movement and the dental occlusion. TMJ / TMDs are physical disorders arising from an imbalance in the delicate working relationship of the jaw and skull with the muscles that move the jaw, as well as the nervous system associated with these systems. This imbalance results in muscle fatigue, spasm and/or joint dysfunction, and even changes in the teeth, which in turn cause a variety of symptoms, unique for each person.
Temporomandibular joints — TMJs — are located on both sides of the face in front of the ears, connecting the jawbone (mandible) to the skull (temporal bone). They’re the most complicated joints in the human body, providing rotation (pivoting) movement like all joints, as well as sliding movement, called translation. That’s what allows us to open our mouths wide and move our jaws from left to right. Between the top end of the jaw (condyle) and the socket in the skull is a disc of cartilage, which — like the discs in the neck and back — serve as shock absorbers, protecting the bones from hitting each other.