What is TMJ? And How Do I Know If I Have It?

19 Jun 2024

What is TMJ? And How Do I Know If I Have It?

Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) disorders can be quite a hassle, affecting the way you chew, speak, and even yawn. The TMJ is the joint that connects your jaw to your skull, and when it doesn’t work right, it can lead to discomfort and pain. Let’s dive into what causes TMJ disorders, the symptoms to watch out for, and the treatment options available to help you find relief.

Causes of TMJ Disorders

There are several factors that can lead to TMJ disorders. Trauma to the jaw, head, or neck from sports injuries, car accidents, or falls can disrupt the normal function of your TMJ. Arthritis, both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, can also affect your jaw, causing pain and stiffness.

Bruxism, or teeth grinding, especially during sleep, puts a lot of pressure on your TMJ over time. If your teeth don’t align properly (malocclusion), your jaw might not sit comfortably, leading to strain. Connective tissue diseases like Ehlers-Danlos syndrome or lupus can affect the jaw tissues, increasing the likelihood of TMJ disorders.

Stress and anxiety can lead to muscle tension and teeth grinding, exacerbating TMJ issues. Poor posture, particularly in the neck and shoulders, can strain the muscles around your TMJ. Hormonal fluctuations, particularly in women, might also play a role in the development of TMJ disorders.

Symptoms of TMJ Disorders

TMJ disorders can manifest in several ways. One of the most common symptoms is jaw pain, which can be persistent or come and go. You might find it difficult to open or close your mouth fully, feeling like your jaw is stuck or locked. Clicking, popping, or grinding noises when you move your jaw might indicate TMJ disorders, often accompanied by discomfort.

Pain in or around the ears, frequent headaches, especially around the temples, and facial pain spreading to your neck and shoulders are also common. Your jaw might occasionally lock in an open or closed position (lockjaw), and you could experience ringing or buzzing in the ears (tinnitus).

Treatment Options for TMJ Disorders

Self-Care and Lifestyle Changes

Taking care of yourself at home is often the first step in managing TMJ disorders. Applying ice packs to the affected area can help reduce inflammation and numb the pain. Make sure to wrap the ice pack in a cloth to protect your skin. Additionally, eating soft foods can minimise discomfort. Try incorporating items like yoghurt, mashed potatoes, and smoothies into your diet to avoid putting extra strain on your jaw.

Gentle jaw exercises can also be beneficial. These exercises help stretch and strengthen the jaw muscles, promoting better function and reducing pain. For instance, try slowly opening and closing your mouth or moving your jaw from side to side. Be sure to consult with a dental professional before starting any new exercise routine to ensure you’re doing the right movements.

Managing stress is another crucial aspect of self-care. High stress levels can lead to increased muscle tension and exacerbate TMJ symptoms. Techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, and yoga can help reduce stress and promote relaxation. Setting aside time each day to unwind and practice these techniques can make a significant difference in managing your TMJ disorder.

Medications such as over-the-counter pain relievers, anti-inflammatories, and muscle relaxants can help reduce pain and inflammation associated with TMJ disorders. In some cases, your doctor might prescribe stronger medications for more severe symptoms. Physical therapy is another effective treatment option, as it can strengthen and stretch your jaw muscles, improving function and reducing pain. Additionally, wearing a dental splint or mouthguard can prevent teeth grinding and clenching, thereby reducing pressure on the TMJ. 

In some instances, injections of corticosteroids or botulinum toxin (Botox) into the jaw muscles can provide temporary relief from pain and inflammation. Corrective dental treatments, such as orthodontic procedures or dental work to correct bite alignment, can address the underlying causes of TMJ disorders. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to correct TMJ disorders, including procedures like arthroscopy, arthrocentesis, or open-joint surgery.

TMJ disorders can be a real pain, but understanding what causes them, recognizing the symptoms, and knowing the treatment options can help you manage the condition effectively. If you’re experiencing jaw pain or other symptoms, please call us to book in an appointment, early intervention and comprehensive care can make a big difference, helping you get back to enjoying life without the discomfort of TMJ disorders.

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