If you visit your doctor or dentist with a complaint of jaw pain, chances are you will get advice, diagnosis, or treatment for a temporomandibular joint disorder. If you have ever suffered from TMJ pain, you know that it’s no picnic. TMJ is short for the temporomandibular joint, which is a joint that connects your jaw to your skull. It’s responsible for all the jaw movements that allow us to chew, talk, and yawn. It is estimated that over ten million people suffer from facial pain related to temporomandibular disorders. TMJ disorders are tricky to diagnose and treat. People with TMJ troubles can experience a significant reduction in their quality of life, but they should not give up hope. There are ways to reduce the pain and suffering of this most annoying syndrome.
What Does Feel Like?
Symptoms of TMJ disorder vary from person to person. Some of the more common symptoms include:
- Pain or tenderness around the jaw
- Pain in the right or left temporomandibular joint (TMJ)
- Pain around or inside the ear
- Problems or pain while chewing
- An ache in the facial muscles
- Lockjaw, or the inability to open or close your mouth
There are other symptoms that include toothache, headache, neck aches, earaches, and dizziness. It can even cause shoulder pain in severe cases. Some people may notice a clicking sound, or feel the jaw popping when opening or closing the mouth. As long as the clicking is not painful, you probably do not need to seek treatment.
What Is The Main Cause of TMJ?
The base cause of a temporomandibular disorder is when the muscles of the jaw or parts of the TMJ itself become compromised in some way. Damage to the TMJ and surrounding jaw muscles can happen in a number of different ways. Obviously, an injury can cause you problems. But most often, TMJ issues are due to a more gradual straining of the TMJ joint. For example, If you have excessive movement in the disc between the ball and socket of the joint, it can lead to pain. This movement can be exacerbated by eating things that are hard or chewy, such as chewing gum, bagels, apples, and caramel. Stress is another common cause of TMJ disorders. The jaw is a very powerful mechanism. Unfortunately, the body often releases stress by clenching or grinding the teeth. This results in a very high amount of pressure being put on the jaw joint. When we unconsciously put continuous pressure on the temporomandibular joint, it causes damage to the muscles and the surrounding tissue. The temporomandibular joints are also a place where arthritis can settle in.
Can TMJ Go Away On Its Own?
Very often, pain in the temporomandibular joint will go away with a little self-care at home. You may find some immediate pain relief from over the counter pain relievers, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID). Try applying moist heat to the jaw muscles, and give your jaw a rest by eating soft foods for a week or two. Be sure you are getting regular exercise to help mitigate any stress that causes you to clench your jaw unnecessarily. If the pain is severe, you can make an appointment to see a professional. Your doctor or dentist may prescribe muscle relaxants and send you to physical therapy to learn relaxation techniques that may help you reduce tension on your jaw. It’s best to avoid treatment that involves TMJ surgery or anything that causes a permanent change in your bite. If your doctor believes your symptoms can only be relieved by surgery, it’s advisable to get a second opinion.
What happens if TMJ Is Left Untreated?
If you ignore the pain in your jaw joints and keep going full steam ahead, your health will surely suffer. This syndrome is often chronic. Once you suffer from TMJ problems, you are more likely to have pain again in the future. Eventually, it could progress to the point where you suffer from a locked jaw and will be unable to open your mouth completely without excruciating pain. Good health care, even if it’s just a treatment you administer at home, goes a long way to helping TMJ issues resolve themselves without official medical advice, diagnosis. If you suffer from TMJ syndrome, check out the TMJ Association. They are a non-profit patient advocacy group that has a lot of good information for dealing with TMJ problems.
Mention It To Your Dentist
Since you are visiting your dentist twice a year anyway, it’s always a good idea to mention any problems with your jaw during your visit. Your dentist should be asking about your jaw health during each visit and may have some good recommendations if you are experiencing problems. In the meantime, treat your jaw with kindness and take the pressure off. It will pay off dividends in the long run!