Smiling, laughing, talking, chewing — these all are facial movements you make daily with little to no thought. But, if you have those simple movements may cause you a lot of pain.
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) acts like a sliding hinge, connecting your jawbone to your skull. You have one joint on each side of your jaw. TMJ disorders — a type of temporomandibular disorder or TMD — can cause pain in your jaw joint and in the muscles that control jaw movement.
The exact cause of a person’s TMJ disorder is often difficult to determine. Your pain may be due to a combination of factors, such as genetics, arthritis or jaw injury. Some people who have jaw pain also tend to clench or grind their teeth (bruxism), although many people habitually clench or grind their teeth and never develop TMJ disorders.
In most cases, the pain and discomfort associated with TMJ disorders is temporary and can be relieved with self-managed care or nonsurgical treatments. Surgery is typically a last resort after conservative measures have failed, but some people with TMJ disorders may benefit from surgical treatments.
Signs and symptoms of TMJ disorders may include:
TMJ disorders can also cause a clicking sound or grating sensation when you open your mouth or chew. But if there’s no pain or limitation of movement associated with your jaw clicking, you probably don’t need treatment for a TMJ disorder.
The temporomandibular joint combines a hinge action with sliding motions. The parts of the bones that interact in the joint are covered with cartilage and are separated by a small shock-absorbing disk, which normally keeps the movement smooth.
In many cases, however, the cause of TMJ disorders isn’t clear.
In most cases, TMJ dysfunction is diagnosed during Your healthcare provider will:
In addition, radiographs (X-rays) may be taken to view the jaw joints and determine the extent of damage. These may include:
To help alleviate TMJ pain, minimize wide jaw movements, such as chewing, yawning, singing, and yelling. Do your best to keep your muscles as relaxed as possible.
Sitting in an unideal position for long periods of time can cause you to feel more pain in your jaw.
When working, choose a chair with back support and take frequent breaks to improve your posture. While driving, set your seat to be as upright as possible, and while doing leisure activities, such as watching TV or reading, choose a space that allows you to sit upright and place a pillow behind your back for support.
Hearn suggests the following exercise to correct your sitting or standing posture: Raise your chest bone, pull your shoulders back and gently squeeze your shoulder blades to straighten your back muscles.
Sleep is important for many aspects of good health. To help minimize TMJ pain, sleep on your back and use pillows to support your neck. You should avoid sleeping on your stomach, and if sleeping on your side, do not place your hand on your jaw.
Ice helps reduce swelling and pain, while heat can increase blood flow and relax your jaw muscles. Apply a hot or cold compress to your jaw for 15 to 20 minutes at a time using a light layer between the compress and your skin.
Try techniques to help loosen and relax your jaw. Yoga practices can also help put less stress on your muscles, and gardening is a great activity to try to calm your mind and relax your face.
Jaw exercises can help increase mobility in your joints. There are three types of jaw exercises that can be used together to relieve pain:
You may have a few tendencies that can cause TMD pain. Such habits include:
Specific activities and foods can cause you to open your mouth forcefully or move your jaw in an extreme way. Try to avoid the following:
In some cases, the symptoms of TMJ disorders may go away without treatment. If your symptoms persist, your doctor may recommend a variety of treatment options, often more than one to be done at the same time.
Along with other nonsurgical treatments, these medication options may help relieve the pain associated with TMJ disorders:
Nondrug therapies for TMJ disorders include:
In some cases, yes, but it depends on the cause. For example, if you’ve had a TMJ flare-up due to a temporary period of stress, your symptoms will likely subside once the stress is no longer a factor. However, if your TMJ pain is due to jaw misalignment or the way your teeth fit together, you will likely have chronic problems that will only improve with treatment.
Left untreated, TMJ disorder can lead to significant health problems, including chronic pain and inflammation. It can also cause bite issues, tooth erosion and long-term conditions such as sleep apnea, insomnia, depression and anxiety.
With proper intervention, TMJ dysfunction can be successfully treated. The first step is seeing your healthcare provider for an evaluation. It’s best to treat the condition early on before symptoms worsen.
Jaw pain may not seem like a big deal, especially if it comes and goes. However, left untreated, TMJ dysfunction can seriously hinder everyday functions like biting, chewing and speaking. If you think you may have TMJ symptoms, call your healthcare provider and schedule a consultation. Prompt treatment can help you manage the condition and improve your overall quality of life.
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