Among the most common, irritating and difficult to diagnose problems with head and neck pain are temporomandibular joint problems, more commonly known as TMJ problems. The joint is located near the ear where the top of the mandible or lower jaw meets the upper jaw at the base of the skull.
Like all other joints in the body, the TMJ is subject to inflammation and other chronic joint problems. Many of these issues may be caused by destructive bite habits like clenching or grinding. These actions cause pressure on the joint that can lead to inflammation and general breakdown of the joint itself.
What makes TMJ problems difficult to diagnose and treat properly is the fact that the symptoms vary widely in both location and severity. Symptoms can range from a slight clicking in the jaw with no pain to severe head and neck pain which is not relieved by medication.
Often times, TMJ disorders are first treated conservatively with medical and physical therapy, which can include the use of a nightguard. When this does not alleviate the symptoms, surgical interventions can be used such as steroid joint injections. Dr. Smith will perform a detailed and thorough exam, which sometimes includes CT and MRI imaging of the jaw joint, in order to establish a proper diagnosis and treatment course.