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Basic TMJ Facts

TMJ is also known as temporomandibular joint syndrome. It is a disorder resulting from an injury to the joint that connects your jaw to your skull.  This joint is located in front of each ear and allows you to talk and chew.  This disorder targets the muscles and nerves of the joint. It can cause pain while chewing as well as a clicking or popping of the jaw.  Some cases also cause nerve inflammation, swelling of the face, headaches, tooth grinding, and even jaw dislocation. Understanding TMJ Facts can help you learn what causes your condition and how you can control it.

TMJ Facts and Risk Factors

There are several factors that can increase the risk of getting TMJ.  Poor posture in the neck and upper back can lead to neck strain and improper alignment which can impact jaw muscle function.  People who clench their jaw under stress or have muscle tension are more susceptible to this disorder.  Women between the ages of 18 and 44 have an increased risk of developing TMJ.  Anyone who has suffered a trauma to the jaw or poorly positioned teeth or chronic inflammatory disorders or musculoskeletal conditions are more likely to develop TMJ as well.

Causes of TMJ

Typically, multiple factors can contribute to the muscle dysfunction that is a major symptom of TMJ.  However, doctors are not sure if these factors cause the disorder or if they are symptoms of the disorder itself.  Many things that are believed to be a cause of the disorder include the same risk factors listed above including teeth grinding, jaw clenching, poor posture, stress or injury.  It is also possible that whiplash can contribute to TMJ.  Arthritis can also be a factor in this disorder.

Symptoms of TMJ

The most noticeable symptom with TMJ is pain in the jaw joint which may be more noticeable during chewing.  This pain can be temporary or last an extended period of time.  A popping or clicking in the jaw joint during chewing, sore or tight jaw and neck muscles, lockjaw, headaches, and ear pain are also symptoms of the disorder.  You may notice one or multiple symptoms which may come and go depending on the severity of your case.

There is no specific test to diagnose TMJ.  However, the symptoms of TMJ can also be common for many other issues such as arthritis, tooth decay, or gum disease.  Your doctor will ask you questions and examine you in an attempt to find a cause for your symptoms and rule out any other possible conditions.  During the examination your dentist may take X-rays and check your jaw to make sure that it is working properly.  Occasionally an MRI or CT may be done to get a better look at the structure of the joint and any other issues you may be having.  You may be referred to a specialist for confirmation and treatment based upon the severity of your symptoms and the severity of your TMJ.

Treating TMJ

One of the best ways to treat TMJ is to know what causes the disorder to be a problem and try to manage these triggers.  For example, if stress causes your TMJ to worsen then you may consider practicing stress reduction techniques and relaxation techniques.  Other treatments you can try at home include applying ice packs to the joint, anti-inflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen, avoiding tough foods, chewing ice, and gum, and massage techniques to help relax your neck and jaw muscles and increase blood flow.

Certain behavioral changes, such as not resting your chin on your hand and not holding your phone between your shoulder and your ear may help alleviate symptoms.  Keeping your teeth slightly apart instead of clenched whenever you can will also relieve pressure on your jaw and ease the symptoms of TMJ.  Some people who suffer from TMJ seek out alternative medicine to assist with the disorder and the symptoms.  Acupuncture has been said to help relieve the chronic pain caused by the disorder.

TMJ Facts about Medical Intervention

If you are still having problems with TMJ and no home treatment methods are helping then your case may require medical intervention.  Your doctor may try a number of possible solutions to help you get relief.  A dental splint is an appliance that is placed in your mouth to help keep your teeth aligned and prevent tooth grinding.  Physical therapy and jaw exercises can help improve muscle strength, flexibility and increase range of motion in the area.  Your doctor may prescribe you with prescription pain killers, muscle relaxers, or anti-inflammatory medications to help you manage your pain.

In very severe cases, jaw or dental surgery may be the best option for you.  The cause of your TMJ will play a role in which surgery will be most effective for you.  These surgeries range from minimally invasive to open-joint surgery which has a much longer recovery time.  Your doctor and dentist will advise you of all of your options and help you make the best choice in regard to your specific case of TMJ.

Most people are able to live full and happy lives with TMJ.  If you know the cause for your case then it will help you effectively manage the condition.  In severe cases you may need to seek long term treatment to help with the pain and headaches of TMJ.

Preventing TMJ

Symptoms of TMJ may come and go depending on your lifestyle and stress levels.  Many people are able to control the disorder and prevent episodes. They do this by understanding what triggers their TMJ. Modifying behavior with changes such as: eating soft foods, avoiding chewing gum and tough foods like jerky, paying attention to having good posture, using any dental appliances given to you by your doctor or dentist, and practicing relaxation and stress reduction techniques all helps reduce or eliminate basic symptoms.

It is also important to practice safety during dangerous activities that could result in a mouth or jaw injury.  Always wear the proper safety equipment while participating in sports or anything else that may result in an injury.

If you want to learn more about TMJ facts or treatment, please call Mark Levy DDS at (614) 777–7350 for a consultation.