Understanding the Anatomy of the Jaw Joint
by Dr. Scott Bolding | Apr. 19, 2021
Why is Understanding the Anatomy of the TMJ Important?
The TMJ is one of the most important joints in your body. It gives you the ability to open your mouth to speak and eat. But we don’t always think about the jaw joint the same way we think about the knee or the hip.
Did you know that the TMJ is just like the knee, hip, or elbow?
Yes, there are some differences between them. But at the end of the day, the TMJ is a joint. The anatomy of the jaw joint is like the anatomy of the knee or the hip.
There are ligaments. There are tendons. There are muscle attachments.
The anatomy of the jaw joint should affect how we deal with TMJ disorders. We need to take care of it like we take care of our knees and hips. When we understand the anatomy of the jaw joint, we can take a more orthopedic approach to TMJ disorders. Knowing the structure of the TMJ allows us to offer a more accurate diagnosis. A more accurate diagnosis means more effective treatment options.
Let’s look at the Anatomy of the TMJ.
The TMJ is made up of two bones joined together which allows for the movement between those bones. Inside the joint, there are ligaments that hold it in place. Cartilage and tendons are also important parts of the jaw joint.
There is also a synovial disc. The synovial disc contains fluid that lubricates and provides nutrition to the joint. The synovial disc allows for better movement and keeps the joint healthy.
What Problems Can Occur Within the Joint?
Whenever your bite changes or you lose a tooth it can affect your jaw joint. In these situations, there is extra pressure on the TMJ. This pressure causes damage. It’s like putting extra pressure on the knee or the hip. If you spend a long period of time on your knees, for example, damage will occur. The TMJ is no different. If we put too much pressure on the jaw joint, we can cause damage, resulting in TMJ disorders.
The synovial disc often plays a role in TMJ disorders. A lack of synovial fluid can cause cartilage cells to thin. Thin cartilage cells can become damaged. Damaged cartilage is difficult to repair when there is no synovial fluid. The result is a breakdown of the jaw joint. The bones begin to wear down and become damaged, leading to TMJ disorders.
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How Does the Anatomy of the TMJ Help Us Treat It?
Understanding the anatomy of the jaw joint helps us take care of it better. We treat the TMJ like we treat the knee or hip. If you injure your knee, what will your doctor say?
- Rest it.
- Take some pain medication.
- Try icing it.
Well, it’s the same thing for the TMJ. If you are experiencing pain in your jaw the first thing we need to do is rest it. Eat softer foods. Don’t chew gum for a while. Give it a chance to repair itself. We may prescribe anti-inflammatories and recommend icing the joint to help with the pain.
In some cases, when you injure your knee your doctor may prescribe a knee brace to help support it. We can support the jaw joint in a similar way. For some patients, a mouthguard or bite brace can help. Mouthguards are especially helpful for patients who grind or clench their teeth. Grinding and clenching can not only cause damage to the teeth. They can also put unnecessary pressure on the jaw joint. Mouthguards keep that damage from happening.
And like in the hip or knee, there are certain cases where conservative methods won’t work. There are times where surgery is the only permanent solution to TMJ disorders. Again, this is where the anatomy of the jaw joint can help us determine whether or not surgery is necessary. In the same way, a doctor would evaluate the knee or hip, we should be looking at the jaw joint carefully. We need to make sure we account for any damage that has taken place. We want to use conservative treatments as much as possible, but it’s also important to know when surgery is the best solution for our patients.
How the Anatomy of the Jaw Joint Helps US Determine Treatment Options
In order to determine what treatments are best for each individual patient, we need to be able to examine the joint well. This involves not only feeling it but also getting scans so we can see what’s going on more clearly. A doctor evaluating your knee will take several scans of the knee before recommending treatment. This is because they want to see everything that is going on inside the knee so they can address those issues. We want to do the same thing with the jaw joint.
We need to be able to see inside the joint. So, we’ll take X-Rays and even an MRI so we can see the whole picture. When we understand the anatomy of the jaw joint we can detect where damage has occurred. And we can figure out the cause of that damage. Once we understand what’s going on, we can offer treatment options that actually work for you.
TMJ Anatomy. (n.d.). Physiopedia. https://www.physio-pedia.com/TMJ_Anatomy
Smale, S. (2015, October 11). Temporomandibular Joint Disorders – Clinical Anatomy & Assessment. Rayner & Smale. https://www.raynersmale.com/blog/2014/9/12/temporomandibular-joint-disorders-physiotherapy
TeachMeAnatomy. (2020, April 5). The Temporomandibular Joint – Structure – Function. https://teachmeanatomy.info/head/joints/temporomandibular/
The PRECiDENT Difference
Taking an Orthopedic Approach to TMJ Disorders
PRECiDENT believes that understanding the anatomy of the jaw joint is crucial for treating TMJ disorders. When we understand how the jaw joint works, we can take a more effective orthopedic approach to issues within the jaw joint. This allows us to see exactly what is going on within the TMJ, so we can give our patients the treatment options they really need. Some patients will be just fine with rest, pain medication, and ice. Others will need a mouthguard. And there will be some situations where the only real solution is TMJ surgery. But the only way we can know which treatment option is best for our patients is to understand the anatomy of the jaw joint.