What Is Temporomandibular Joint Ankylosis?

A man in Pune, India, recently made headlines for an oral surgery he received at the MA Rangoonwala College of Dental Sciences and Research Centre. But this wasn’t your typical oral surgery. The man, who is only 39 years old, had been unable to open and close his mouth for 38 years due to an injury he received as a 1-year-old. As a result, he developed a condition called temporomandibular joint ankylosis, a very rare disorder where the bones in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) fuse to the skull with fibrous, bony tissue, making it nearly impossible to open and close the mouth.

Temporomandibular joint ankylosis brings to mind another, much more common disorder with a similar name, temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMJ disorder for short. Similar in some ways, TMJ disorder is a misalignment of the temporomandibular joint that causes pain when moving the jaw or opening and closing the mouth.

“But the similarities pretty much end there,” says Dr. Alexandra George, a neuromuscular dentist from Wexford, Pennsylvania. “With temporomandibular joint disorder, there is nothing fusing the TMJ to the skull. In fact, the detachment from the skull is what causes the disorder.”

So, how do two totally different disorders of the same joint cause the same symptom – the inability to open and close the mouth?

“Well, that is because with TMJ disorder the surrounding muscles become tense and make it difficult to open and close the mouth,” George says. “There are only so many ways those muscles and joints will react.”

According to news reports, the surgery performed in India allowed the patient to eat solid food again.

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