Did you know that your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the most constantly used joint in your entire body? It is the joint that sits in front of both of your ears, where your skull and jaw come together. Your tiny TMJ disks are made of cartilage and absorb the impact whenever you open or close your mouth for biting, chewing, talking, or kissing. And while most folks mention their TMJs, what they really mean is the joint in general and its surrounding muscles.
Signs you Might have TMJ
- Have you had an injury to your lower jaw or face?
- Do you have issues with your TMJ from erosion or dislocation?
- Do you have connective tissue diseases that impact your bony or soft tissues?
- Do you experience chronic bruxism?
- Is your teeth or jaw misaligned?
- Do you have inflammation in your jaw muscles surrounding your TMJ?
What’s Causing Your TMJ Pain?
Pinpointing the exact cause of your TMJ discomfort may be trickier than you might think. It is often not just one factor that leads to those painful jaw joints. Instead, it can come about because of a combination of factors, including genetics, arthritis, or a jaw injury. For example, some people unconsciously clench their jaws and grind their teeth (bruxism), but not everyone who does that ends up with a TMJ disorder!
Your TMJ might shift out of its correct alignment, the disk might erode, the cartilage may become damaged (from arthritis), or an impacted joint from a traumatic injury is causing discomfort. Often TMJ turns out to be only temporary, and you might be able to feel better after doing some simple self-care. You may want to seek professional relief if one of the following occurs:
- Your TMJ muscles are overworked or strained from constant grinding and clenching
- Arthritis develops over time
- A traumatic injury (to your jaw, head, or neck)
Medically speaking, we have not come to a common consensus about what can give you a TMJ disorder because of all these various factors. The Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research concluded it depended on a few areas: clinical, psychological, sensory, genetic, even problems with your nervous system or hormonal changes (for women).
To help find out why TMJ might be a problem for you, you’ll need to get a diagnosis with a thorough medical history, physical examination, and possibly running diagnostic tests.
Diagnosing your symptoms might involve listening to and feeling your jaw as you open and close your mouth or examining your jaw’s range of motion. Pressing on the region around your jaw can also help spot areas of pain. You might need to have a dental X-ray to check out your teeth and jaw, while a CT scan can help the bones in the joint. An MRI can show the state of the joint’s disk and surrounding soft tissue.
Treating Your TMJ
The good news is that there are all kinds of treatment options available to you to soothe your TMJ’s and find much-needed pain relief. Certain medications like pain relievers, anti-inflammatories, tricyclic antidepressants and muscle relaxants have helped many people deal with their TMJ discomfort.
An occlusal appliance can also make a difference where you wear an oral splint or mouth guard to help with jaw clenching and teeth grinding. Lifestyle changes you can make or other resources to help with treatment include:
- Physical therapy
- Exercises to stretch and strengthen jaw muscles
- Massaging the jaw
- Stretching the neck and jaw
- Practicing stress-reduction techniques
- Ultrasound technology
- Applying moist heat or ice packs
Even counseling can help relieve stress, so you don’t feel you constantly clench your jaw.
More invasive treatments can also help, such as surgery to perform arthrocentesis, getting injections, TMJ arthroscopy showing the inside of the joint space, having a modified condylotomy, or even open-joint surgery are all potential options for severe TMJ issues. If you would like to learn more or get a diagnosis for your TMJ, please reach out and give us a call today!