Few things are as inconvenient as not being able to open and close your mouth properly. Along with eating and speaking, improper jaw function can make simply going about your day extremely difficult.
Unfortunately for people with TMJ symptoms, this is often a common experience. While living with TMJ can feel unpredictable and sometimes never-ending, treatment is available.
Here’s what you need to know about diagnosing, treating, and preventing TMJ pain.
What is TMJ?
The temporomandibular joint, commonly referred to as TMJ, connects your jaw bone to the base of your skull. This joint acts as a sliding hinge that allows your jaw to move up, down, and side to side.
Because these small joints work so hard to perform normal daily activities — including speaking and eating — temporomandibular disorders (TMD) are relatively common and can lead to significant pain in the joint and surrounding muscles in your jaw.
It’s best to seek out a TMJ specialist at the onset of symptoms to relieve jaw pain and keep the problem from getting worse.
What Are the Symptoms of TMJ?
The symptoms of a TMJ disorder can range from mildly annoying to downright debilitating pain. Some of the most common side effects of TMJ include:
- Pain, discomfort, or tenderness in your jaw
- Pain behind or around your ear
- Pain while chewing
- Persistent facial discomfort
- A clicking or popping sound when you open your mouth
- Difficulty opening, closing, or moving your mouth due to a locked jaw
In minor cases, it’s possible for TMJ to resolve on its own over time. But if your TMJ symptoms are particularly painful, persistent, or grow worse over time, it’s important to seek professional treatment from the team at Access Health Dental sooner rather than later.
What Causes TMJ?
For the temporomandibular joint to work as it should, it must combine a hinge action with sliding motions.
The jaw bone that comes into contact with the temporomandibular joint is protected with cartilage and is paired with a tiny shock-absorbing disk that works to keep the movement smooth every time you open and close your jaw.
However, TMJ problems can occur when:
- The joint is damaged by trauma or injury
- The joint’s cartilage erodes away by arthritis
- The disk pops out of its proper alignment
Other common causes of TMJ include autoimmune disorders, dental surgery, and certain infections. Some factors can make an individual more prone to experiencing TMJ issues, such as:
- Rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis
- Chronic teeth grinding or clenching, also known as Bruxism
- Injury to the jaw
- Connective tissue diseases that could impact the temporomandibular joint
It’s possible that environmental and hormonal factors could also impact a person’s likelihood of experiencing a TMJ disorder, especially since more women than men are diagnosed with TMJ every year.
While this is true, the exact connection between hormonal influences and TMJ are not fully understood and are still being researched.
How Do You Treat TMJ?
If you’re living with TMJ pain symptoms, you know how life-altering this condition can be. Most people never think about how often they move their jaw until they can no longer do so normally.
Fortunately, TMJ symptoms are often easy to treat and manage at home or with assistance from a TMJ specialist. Here are some common options for managing your TMJ pain and regaining the proper movement of your jaw.
- Avoid putting unnecessary pressure on your jaw by eating soft foods and being careful not to clench your jaw.
- Alternating between ice and moist heat can reduce discomfort, but rest and gentle movements are the best way to treat minor to moderate TMJ symptoms at home.
Treat the source
- In most cases, TMJ pain is a side effect of a bigger problem a person may be experiencing.
- For example, if your TMJ pain is caused by arthritis, managing the inflammation in your joints caused by the arthritis with the appropriate medications could resolve your TMJ symptoms.
- If you have jaw pain due to clenching your teeth, wearing a mouth guard or managing your stress may help.
- For long-lasting episodes of TMJ that can’t be managed at home or with over-the-counter remedies, surgery may be the best option to alleviate discomfort and allow for easy jaw movement once again.
- TMJ surgery is only recommended for people who specifically have an issue with their actual temporomandibular joint.
- TMJ surgery isn’t going to resolve jaw pain caused by arthritis or grinding your teeth.
How Can You Prevent TMJ?
TMJ can be an annoying, inconvenient, and uncomfortable condition to live with. The good news is that there are practical steps you can take to prevent TMJ symptoms from developing in the first place, such as:
- Avoid eating foods that require a lot of chewing, such as meats or breads. If you do choose to eat foods that are chewy or hard, be sure to cut them into small pieces to minimize the pressure you put on your joints.
- Chew food on both sides of your mouth to avoid putting undue stress on one side of your mouth.
- Wear a mouth guard if you’re prone to clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth.
- Don’t rest your hands on your chin for long periods of time.
- Avoid biting down on inedible objects, such as pencils or ice.
Access Health Dental Can Help You Treat & Prevent TMJ
The dentist may not be the first place you think to go when you experience TMJ pain, but it should be.
An experienced dental team can help diagnose a TMJ disorder and relieve your jaw pain by getting to the source of the problem.
If you’re suffering from minor to severe jaw pain, unusual clicking noises when opening your mouth, or difficulty moving your mouth when performing normal activities, such as eating, don’t postpone treatment.
The trusted team at Access Health Dental can help you regain your quality of life by resolving your TMJ symptoms.