TMJ, which stands for temporomandibular joint, refers to the joint where your jaw connects to your skull. TMJ disorders are highly common in the United States, affecting over 10 million Americans. Generally, they involve either damage or misalignment of the temporomandibular joint, often resulting in pain, sticking, and locking of the jaws.
Causes of TMJ
The causes of TMJ generally involve damage to the joint’s cartilage, erosion of the disk within the joint, or trauma to the joint from an impact or stress. A number of this disorder’s specific causes include:
- Clenching or grinding teeth
- Trauma or injury to the head or neck
Often, the individual factors that lead to TMJ are unclear. However, the symptoms are easily identifiable.
Symptoms of TMJ
If you have TMJ disorder, you may experience some of the following symptoms:
- Pain, aching, or tenderness in your jaw, neck, ear, or shoulders
- Jaws getting stuck or locked in position
- Clicking, grating, or popping noises from the jaw joint whenever you open or close your mouth
- Fatigue or pain in the face
- Limited jaw movement
- Difficulty or discomfort when chewing
The effects of TMJ disorders can cause a great deal of pain and discomfort, especially since the joint is used so frequently. In spite of this, many people don’t seek treatment, and thus perpetuate or exacerbate the problem.
TMJ Treatment Options
There are a number of treatment options available for those suffering from TMJ disorder. The treatment used is determined by a thorough diagnosis of the disorder’s exact nature, which will vary from patient to patient. A dentist can provide a number of solutions, including:
- Oral appliances which are worn at night to prevent clenching and ease stress on the joint
- Dental work to correct bite and tooth alignment
- Pain medications
- Oral surgery, which is generally used as a last resort when all else fails
In addition to professional treatment, TMJ’s symptoms can be mitigated through some everyday habits, including:
- Sleep on your back, allowing the jaw to relax
- Hot or cold compresses
- Eat soft foods
- Avoid biting with the front teeth
- Practice good posture
- Use relaxation techniques
- Keep teeth apart
- Avoid stretching the jaw to extremes
In some cases, in-home treatments combined with minimally invasive dental are enough to eliminate TMJ disorders. In others, more extensive treatment may be needed, such as if the joint has been damaged through trauma.