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What do you know about the medical condition called TMJ? This common disorder impacts your jaw joint along with the muscles that move the jaw itself. TMJ disorders impact over 10 million Americans and, for whatever reason, affect women more than men. This complex joint moves both up and down and left to right. You’ll find the temporomandibular joint at the base of your skull, which allows you to chew, speak and even breathe. Your TMJs connect your lower jaw (mandible) with the temporal bone located on the side of your skull.

What Causes TMJ/TMD?

When you have a TMJ disorder, you might find yourself with various symptoms because of pain around your jaw while limiting jaw movement. If you find yourself with persistent TMJ pain, it may stem from one of the following:

  • A physical injury or strain
  • Arthritis
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Bad posture
  • Dental surgery
  • Hormones like estrogen in women
  • Tooth infection and pain
  • Tooth grinding or jaw clenching in your sleep (bruxism)
  • Your family tree
  • Vertigo

TMJ/TMD Symptoms

TMJ pain can arise whenever you shift your jaw and can be accompanied by chronic headaches, including migraines and pain in the ear, neck, or back. You can also find yourself hearing odd noises whenever you move your jaw, like grinding, popping, or clicking, but without any pain triggering it. With a TMJ disorder, you could notice a buzzing or ringing noise along with numbness and an earache. Another classic symptom of this condition is being unable to fully open your mouth or jaw.

Treating TMJ/TMD

Thankfully, there are a variety of treatments to help you find TMJ relief, whether it’s practicing self-care or implementing changes in your day-to-day routine. For example, stress your jaw minimally by avoiding chewing gum and cutting up hard, chewy foods into small bites. Relaxing the jaw instead of clenching it, wearing a special night guard while you sleep, trying gentle jaw stretches, and massaging the jaw muscles can all help. Addressing stress through behavioral changes using counseling and stress management can overcome nail-biting, jaw clenching, and grinding from stress or anxiety.

Mouth guards, or oral splints, help limit grinding and clenching while stabilizing the jaw to relieve pain and discomfort. For some, applying a moist heat pack or a cold compress for heat and cold therapy can relieve inflammation and pain. People with osteoarthritis may find relief with a steroid injection that lessens painful swelling. For more temporary discomfort, you can try over-the-counter pain meds like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and prescription muscle relaxants to help you feel better. For instance, Botulinum toxin (BOTOX) injections are commonly used to provide pain relief from jaw muscle tension, and bonus, they help with tension headaches as well! Another effective treatment includes steroid injections that help ease jaw movement.

If you find your TMJ pain lingering and are unable to cope with the discomfort, other options may need to be explored, such as surgery to fix restricted jaw movement and pain in the jaw muscles or joints. Severe TMJD can also respond well to surgery. Arthrocentesis gets rid of debris and inflammatory byproducts in the TMJ joint by rinsing it with fluid through tiny needles. Arthroscopy can be done by inserting a thin, tiny tube to see the joint damage so that the position of the cartilage disc may be changed or clearing the joint surfaces. An arthrotomy can be done by repairing, replacing or taking out parts of the TMJ itself.

Seeking Help!

If you put off seeking treatment for your TMJD issues and continue to live with pain, keep in mind that over time this can lead to other health issues like depression. No one should live with chronic pain when there are alternatives that can help! We recommend seeing our TMJ/TMD doctor to learn more about your condition and what we can do to help you enjoy a pain-free lifestyle.