Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction, often called TMJ or TMD, is a fairly common condition. Since it affects the joint that connects your jaw to your skull, TMJ can affect eating, talking, chewing, and even yawning!
If you’ve been diagnosed with a temporomandibular joint disorder, you may want to know more about it. Read on to learn about TMJ symptoms, causes, and treatment options.
Though most people think of TMJ pain as the primary symptom, temporomandibular joint disorders can present in several other ways. Additionally, some people only have pain on one side, while others experience discomfort in both TMJs. Temporomandibular joint dysfunction can also present as:
- An aching pain in and around your ear or face
- Difficulty or pain when chewing
- Locking of the temporomandibular joint when your mouth is open or closed
- Clicking, popping, or grating sounds in the joint when you open and close your mouth
- Swelling along the side of your face
Further, some people may experience headaches, dizziness, upper shoulder pain, and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). If you experience several of these symptoms, you may want to consult your dentist to be evaluated for temporomandibular joint disorder.
How is TMJ Diagnosed?
Expect your dentist to do a thorough exam of your jaw to identify points of pain or tenderness, clicking, popping, or grating with movement, and bite alignment. Your dentist will also check for any issues with your facial muscles or when opening and closing your mouth.
In some cases, additional imaging may be necessary. Full facial x-rays, MRIs, and CTs provide a clearer picture about your bone structure and can help rule out alternate causes.
Nobody knows exactly what causes temporomandibular joint disorders, but there are some potential triggers. Generally, it is believed that these disorders come from problems with the jaw muscles or parts of the joint.
Obviously, any injury to the area could lead somebody to develop TMJ pain. Other potential causes may involve disc erosion or misalignment, damage to the joint cartilage, arthritis in the joint, teeth grinding, and stress. In many cases, the direct cause remains unknown.
Risk Factors for TMJ
Though we don’t have a known cause for temporomandibular joint dysfunction, there are some factors that could put you at risk.
- Jaw injury or trauma
- Long-term teeth grinding or clenching
- Some connective tissue diseases
- Poor posture that affects the neck and upper back
- Prolonged stress
- Women between the ages of 18 to 44 have increased risk
These factors may put you at greater risk for developing TMJ symptoms, but some of them can be managed. If you have more than one of these risk factors for TMJ, you may want to speak with your dentist about how you can reduce your chances of developing symptoms.
TMJ treatment varies depending on symptom severity. Some people can manage the TMJ pain at home, while others need medical interventions.
Home Treatments for TMJ
There are some steps you can take to manage your TMJ symptoms at home. You may need to combine several options to get relief.
- Over-the-counter medications, like ibuprofen, can help with TMJ pain.
- Alternate applying cold packs and moist heat to your face and temples. Start with an ice pack for ten minutes, then hold a warm, damp washcloth to the area for five more minutes. You can repeat a few times per day.
- Stick with soft foods and avoid anything crunchy or chewy that works your jaw too much.
- Stop chewing gum and avoid any activities that require you to open your mouth too wide.
- Avoid clenching your teeth, resting your chin on your hands and holding your phone between your ear and shoulder.
- Work on your posture to keep your neck and shoulders correctly aligned.
- Practice relaxation techniques to help manage stress and anxiety. Many relaxation techniques alleviate tension in your jaw, neck, and shoulders.
Traditional TMJ Treatments
Your dentist may suggest traditional TMJ treatments to help manage your symptoms. Medication, including muscle relaxers and higher doses of pain relievers may be necessary. Additionally, dental work or a night guard while you sleep could help alleviate some of your pain.
Other TMJ Treatments
If the above treatments fail to relieve your TMJ symptoms, your dentist may suggest more involved treatment options. Some types of therapy, including physical and laser therapies have been successful in alleviating pain.
Finally, surgical intervention may be necessary. However, it’s usually the last option and the level of invasiveness depends on the severity of your condition.
If you have concerns about temporomandibular joint disorders, the team at Jefferson Dental & Orthodontics can help. Book an appointment at the office nearest you!