The temporal mandibular joint (TMJ) is the jaw joint, where the jaw attaches to the skull just in front of the ear. The “socket” for this joint is on the underside of another cranial bone called the temporal bone. These are two of the 29 cranial bones that, as we have learned from the field of cranial osteopathy, move throughout life. The jaw, or mandible, makes big movements as we talk, chew and swallow and supports our lower teeth in a lower dental arch. Its motion is determined by hinging at the TMJ as well as its suspension system of seven major muscle groups, ligaments and tendons and connective tissue (fascia).
The TM joint resembles a ball and socket with the head of the jaw bone (mandible), or condyle as the “ball” in this analogy, fitting into the “socket” or concavity in the temporal bone known as the glenoid fossa. There is also a cartilage disk that separates the two bones and acts as a gliding surface as well as a cushion or shock absorber.
When the jaw is in the correct position, and the upper and lower teeth meet in a way to support that ideal joint relationship, the muscles and ligaments work in harmony to create a balanced, ideal, pain-free function. There are differing opinions on what constitutes a correct position, and how to restore it. A healthy jaw joint allows a person to open wide and function without any discomfort or noise (clicking, popping, grinding sounds). Opening wide, one should be able to fit the knuckles of the middle three fingers side-by-side between the upper and lower edges of the front teeth. Less than that may suggest jaw tightness or limitation.
TMJ symptoms may include: headaches; jaw aches; stiffness; earaches; congestion; ringing in the ears; clicking, popping or grating sounds when opening and closing the mouth; limited jaw opening or locking in an open or closed position; dizziness or loss of balance; tired jaws when chewing; difficulty in swallowing; and more.