Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders, often called TMJ, is quite simply pain in your jaw. It’s much more than that, however. A poorly understood disorder, many misinterpret TMJ as simple jaw pain. Further, it’s difficult to determine what the actual cause is, and in many people it is unknown even after treatment. Regardless of cause, TMJ can cause severe pain and discomfort in sufferers, and treatment is always advised.
What is TMJ?
In layman’s terms, TMJ is pain in the joints and muscles surrounding the jaw. If you open your mouth and feel a tightness or pain, it could potentially be TMJ. For sufferers, every meal becomes an ordeal as chewing is quite difficult. TMJ is essentially caused by physical stress on the various components of the mouth.
Symptoms of TMJ
The symptoms of TMJ are varied. As described above, chewing and biting difficulty is a surefire indication. In addition, clicking and popping sounds are an indicator, as are a dull aching pain when at rest. Locking of the jaw and difficulty opening the mouth can indicate TMJ. Last, due to the connected nature of the skull, TMJ can result in headaches and earaches in some cases. If you have any of these symptoms, you should see your dentist to determine if you have TMJ.
Examinations for TMJ
In addition to seeing your dentist, you may need to see a specialist if you think you have TMJ. Different doctors will have different methods, but it will most likely begin with a dental exam and a bite test. Your primary care dentist will also probably take x-rays to determine if damage has been caused to the bone structure around the jaw. Even if some or all of the symptoms of TMJ are present, the cause may still be something simpler. In many cases the culprit is actually an infection or nerve damage to the area.
Causes of TMJ
Unfortunately, the causes of TMJ are currently unknown in many patients. Often, it is suspected that the cause is muscle tension by the client. As such, stress, lack of sleep, and poor diet can be the root causes. Grinding of the teeth can cause a lateral shearing motion on the jaws, although the root causes are usually the same as muscle tension. Even simple lifestyle issues such as poor posture can be to blame. Last, in some cases improper orthodontics earlier in life can cause imbalances in the jaw to develop, resulting in TMJ.
TMJ treatment is progressive. Most of the time, treatment will begin with physical manipulations and gentle massage. Learning how to stretch your jaw properly, and resting it whenever possible is advised. Like any muscle pain, heat and ice may be recommended by your dentist. Muscle relaxers and anti-inflammatories may also be prescribed, depending on the severity of the case.
Mouth guards are common in cases where the patient is grinding their teeth, as a way to learn to relax the jaw when at rest. These are short-term solutions, as once the stress on the jaw is removed the TMJ gradually disappears. Note that severe treatments like surgery are rarely used for TMJ, as they do not address the root causes of the disorder.
Seek Treatment Immediately
The takeaway message for TMJ is that it is an easily treatable physical stress disorder. Many do not seek treatment as they fear there will be invasive techniques or surgery involved, but that is not the case. In the hands of an expert dentist, the pain caused by TMJ can be easily relieved so you can rest easy and reduce your stress levels.
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