It’s pretty rare that a condition like temporomandibular joint disorder gets attention from a major news outlet like CNN, and when it does, it’s often a botched piece. However, we’re happy to report that CNN’s recent feature on TMJ isn’t riddled with inaccuracies and sticks mostly to the consensus view of the condition.
A Good Primer Piece
Most of the short piece (just over three minutes) focuses on some basic information that everyone needs to understand about TMJ. It emphasizes the most common causes, which include various types of trauma to the jaw joint, which they divide into macro traumas (car accidents or a blow to the jaw) and micro traumas (such as teeth clenching or grinding).
As the piece develops, it also talks about the recommended TMJ treatments, which mostly include noninvasive and reversible approaches.
It’s good to see such solid information on this condition that, hopefully, will reach a wide audience.
Some Limitations, Though
Unfortunately, the piece was limited by a number of misconceptions common to discussions of TMJ, both by medical professionals and by the media. First, there’s the sense that the condition is more properly known as “TMD” rather than “TMJ.” Although it’s true that a couple of organizations got together in the early nineties and agreed to adopt “TMD” as the “official” acronym of “temporomandibular disorder,” the truth is that the condition was called TMJ for over a decade before anyone thought to call it TMD, and it’s been known by over a dozen names in the over 80 years since it was first described (and called “Costen’s syndrome”). Most people call it TMJ, so that’s what it’s called, no matter what some people might tell you.
Another problem is that they leave out another potential cause of TMJ: malocclusion. If your teeth don’t fit together properly, it can lead to stress on jaw muscles and the jaw joints, which can worsen into TMJ. The reason they left this out is likely that it’s somewhat controversial, but it left them without a good explanation for why their lede never really explains what caused her TMJ. Instead, they act as if her dental procedure just “made her aware” of TMJ, when it’s clear from her description that she’d never experienced those symptoms before–and she probably would have noticed them. She probably got a dental restoration that led to an imbalanced bite, which triggered her TMJ.
Finally, they dance around the link between the TMJ and migraines, probably also because it’s controversial. But there’s plenty of evidence that TMJ can and does cause migraines.