As many as 10 million people have TMJ. A condition that affects the temporomandibular joint, the hinge joint between the lower jaw and temporal bone. (To find the joint, place your fingers on your face about a quarter inch from your ear and open your jaw; you’ll feel the joint move.)
A very common symptom of TMJ is a popping or clicking sound when opening or closing the mouth. Another symptom is a jaw that locks or becomes stuck while opening the mouth or yawning. Migraine-like headaches, an ear ache or pain and/or a feeling of great pressure behind your eyes are also symptoms.
In addition to some of the symptoms listed above, other signs of TMJ are tenderness in the jaw muscles as well as a change – usually sudden – in the way the lower and upper teeth fit together.
TMJ pain can also occur when the cartilage and shock-absorbing disk that covers the bones interact with the temporomandibular joint (a hinge that also has some sliding movement) erode or move out of alignment.
Other causes of TMJ can be an uneven bite, if the top and bottom teeth don’t align properly. Stress and strenuous work, such as lifting heavy objects repeatedly, can result in TMJ. Clenching and grinding the teeth over time (bruxism) can also aggravate TMJ.
Your dentist or physician may diagnose TMJ by physically examining the jaw and face, taking x-rays and making a mouth cast to see how well the bite fits. A dentist/physician also may request special TM joint x-rays.
TMJ Pain Treatment Options
There’s really no single treatment or “cure” for the disorder, although your dentist or physician can significantly reduce your symptoms by prescribing one or more of the following:
- Applying moist heat to the area.
- Taking aspirin and over-the-counter pain relievers, prescription and other anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Learning how to control muscle tension in the jaw by trying relaxation techniques and/or going for counseling to help eliminate or manage stress.
- Wearing a bite plate or splint at night/while sleeping, that is custom-made for your mouth; such a mouth guard can reduce the effects of bruxism by helping to prevent the upper teeth from grinding against the lower teeth.
For most people, pain from TMJ resolves itself over time and with the types of non-surgical treatments described above. If none of the above treatments relieve TMJ pain, you may need to consult with an oral and maxillofacial surgeon.