A hard-working joint…
We know the mouth as the entrance to the digestive system or one of its ends and we know it performs such important and vital functions as feeding, breathing and communicating. This part of our body is connected with vital and very important social and emotional areas and has an extremely high work load. Technically, it is part of what is called the “stomatognathic system” (a word there is no need to remember).
Overall we can say that the mouth’s functions are made possible by, among other things, good biomechanics of the temporo-mandibular joint complex (jaw joint, TMJ). It is an assembly of the temporo-mandibular joints, tooth-to-tooth junction (how the upper teeth fit with the bottom teeth) and all the soft tissue responsible for moving these joints and protecting them from excessive mobility (muscles, ligaments and menisci). This is all controlled by the nerve. In this case, the trigeminal nerve is the most important, responsible for all the sensitivity in this part of the body and also for transmitting information from the muscles.
After this brief anatomical review, it is likely that we will realize that saying “Good morning!” to our neighbour in the lift every morning or eating a tortilla skewer after work, has much more to it than we thought.
Importantly, as a joint and musculo-skeletal complex, it is an area exposed to the same problems as any other part of our body and self-care should not be limited just to cleaning our teeth every day, especially before the occurrence of symptoms telling us that something may be amiss.
Medicine has put problems related to the “stomatognathic system” under the heading “temporo-mandibular conditions”. This covers multiple conditions related to this area. There are three basic symptoms: pain in the region of the temporo-mandibular joint (front of the ear); limitation of mouth opening (with or without pain); and the joint making a popping or crackling sound when opening or closing the mouth.
We should add, however, that the jaw is closely connected to the cervical (neck) part of the spine and the shoulder area, and so a reciprocal relationship may exist between them. So we also talk about other symptoms (which may or may not have come first) connected with the above. These are headache, neck pain with or without limited mobility, and even pain in the shoulders and arms.
The jaw is also a key element in posture (both static and dynamic). It can affect stability and balance. Its dysfunction may increase the propensity to suffer injuries in other parts of our body (just ask Rafael Nadal, the tennis player). It is not entirely a lie that footballers with dental caries get injured more…
In short, it is worth knowing the importance of this joint complex. Look after it with the same care we give our other joints and provide immediate solutions to the onset of the symptoms mentioned… plus clean your teeth every day‼‼