TMJ is short for temporomandibular joint disorder, which is also referred to as TMD (but what’s in a name, right?). This disorder affects the—you guessed it—temporomandibular joint, which is the hinge that connects the bones of the skull with the jaw. You can locate this joint in the front of each of your ears, as it allows you to move the jaw side to side, forward and backward, and up and down with ease when you open your mouth to speak and chew.
Below are a few of the main facts about TMJ syndrome so you can develop a better understanding of it.
A Bit of Background: What Happens When You Develop TMJ?
If you are diagnosed with TMJ, it means that there is a problem with the hinge that connects your lower and upper jaw together. It can be challenging for your dentist to determine the cause of your TMJ, but it is important to treat the problem. Otherwise, your joint, which involves the use of a system of bones, discs, ligaments, and muscles, will continue causing unwanted symptoms.
Signs and Symptoms: What Does TMJ Feel Like?
There are quite a few symptoms that can arise when a patient develops TMJ disorder. However, the symptoms could be related to other health concerns, so if you do experience these issues, experts highly recommend talking to your dentist to figure out if TMJ is really to blame.
- Severe discomfort or pain, on one or both sides of the face, that could be temporary or could persist over a long period of time
- Popping, grating, or clicking sounds (with or without pain) within the jaw joint whenever you open and close the mouth or when you chew
- Difficulty opening the mouth wide
- Pressure and pain felt behind the eyes
- Earaches, ringing in the ears, or hearing problems
- Swelling of the side of the face
- Headaches that can mimic migraines
- Dizziness, neck aches, and upper shoulder pain
- Pain when you open your mouth wide, when you chew, or when you yawn
- Jaw muscle tenderness or jaw joint pain on one or both sides
- Tenderness or pain in the jaw joint area, the shoulders and neck, the face, and around or in the ear whenever you open the mouth wide, speak, or chew
- A feeling that your jaw locks, goes out of place, or gets stuck, either in a closed or open position
- Changes in the way the lower and upper teeth align with one another, an uncomfortable bite or difficulty chewing
Getting to the Bottom of Things: What Might Cause TMJ?
TMJ could arise from a variety of scenarios, and dentists are not always able to figure out the exact cause. For example:
- Injuries, such as those that can occur from whiplash or an impact, could adversely affect the muscles of the neck and head, the jaw joint, or the jaw.
- Grinding your teeth, which is referred to as bruxism, could place too much pressure on the joints, leading to discomfort and pain.
- Arthritis within the jaw joint could damage cartilage and cause TMJ symptoms.
- Tightening your jaw and facial muscles, as well as clenching your teeth, could be part of a response to stress that could cause jaw problems.
- If the disc found in the jaw joint moves out of place or erodes, it could inhibit the smooth movement of the jaw.
Getting Relief: How Can TMJ Be Treated?
Thankfully, you don’t have to live with the pain of TMJ. Seeing your dentist when symptoms occur will give you access to timely treatments that can bring relief. Your dentist may recommend a variety of options, such as:
- Applying heat packs or cold packs to your face to inhibit the pain
- Employing relaxation techniques within your daily life in order to reduce tension in the jaw (Yoga class, anyone?)
- Sticking with softer foods for every meal
- Avoiding excessive jaw movements (Keep that chewing gum away!)
- Performing exercises that are designed to strengthen the muscles in the jaw
- Wearing a night guard or splint to combat bruxism
- Taking medications, such as anti-inflammatory meds, anti-anxiety prescriptions, muscle relaxants, or pain relievers
- Fixing a bite that is uneven
- Using orthodontics
- Undergoing surgery if the jaw joint has not responded to other treatments
You Don’t Have to Live with TMJ: See Your Dentist!
TMJ is a painful condition that can get in the way of your daily activities, even when it comes to simple acts like chewing your food. But if you see your dentist, you can narrow down what might be causing your discomfort, and you can get yourself on the road to relief.