Many injuries or conditions (such as TMJ subluxation, clinical shorthand for a partially dislocated jaw caused by a chronic condition), lead to painful joint problems, especially in the jaw. Subluxation in general is an incomplete dislocation of a joint anywhere in the body. This usually occurs in the wake of an awkward use of muscle and bone or through trauma (as when one’s arm is pulled completely out of its socket).
Hinge joints of the jaw are very small; sometimes the simplest acts can cause a complete or partial dislocation. As simple an act as yawning while the lower jaw is supported on the hands can cause a problem. A mild blow crosswise to the lower mandible is enough to totally or partially dislocate it.
Other conditions can cause problems with the jaw (such as the jaw “popping” when eating). Arthritis can manifest itself as any mild clicking in jaw. More severe is when a patient suffers from lockjaw (tetanus). Tetanus is caused by toxins released from bacteria entering the blood from a wound. The bacterium, Clostridium tetani, is usually found in soil. The short, powerful muscles of the jaw constrict in a rigor, leaving the patient unable to open the mouth or swallow. Lockjaw treatment requires hospitalization. An antitoxin counteracts the effects of the bacterial poison, and the rictus of the face is gradually relaxed with doses of muscle relaxers.
Another common problem with the jaw can be attributed to TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint disorder). TMJ subluxation is the partial dislocation, or “slipping” of the hinged joint of the lower jaw (the upper jaw is stationary, only the lower one moves). It may involve only one or both sides of the jaw, making chewing painful to the point of impossible. Speech may be difficult as well.
TMJ may have any number of causes. Some of the causes are conscious or subconscious habits, such as clenching or grinding the teeth (known as “bruxism”). A malocclusion (overbite or undershot jaw) can also put jaw muscles under stress.
Painful TMJ often goes undiagnosed by physicians because it many times presents itself with other, more readily identifiable symptoms, such as muscular headaches or craniofacial pain (brought on by sinusitis, for example). TMJ symptoms often mimic symptoms of other disorders such as migraines or intracranial aneurysms; hence, it is often not considered.
The first step in understanding TMJ subluxation would be to offer it up as a possible condition when faced with a physician who is treating a subject for related conditions. Suggesting it as a cause for the annoying clicking in the jaws when eating or the pain of chewing may goad a doctor toward investigating TMJ as a cause underlying other health issues.