Ever felt pain near your jaw? Having trouble opening your mouth? Not a lot of people know what the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is despite how involved it is in many of our mundane day-to-day tasks such as chewing and eating.
First of all, what is the temporomandibular joint (TMJ)?
The temporomandibular (tem-puh-roe-man-DIB-u-lur) joint (TMJ) functions as a sliding hinge, connecting the jawbone to the skull. More specifically, these joints are responsible for attaching your mandible (or lower jawbone) to your temporal bone located on the side of the skull. It is one of the most complex structures in the body consisting of the bones, tendons, muscles, blood vessels, and nerves. You can locate a pair of temporomandibular sliding joints on both sides of your head in front of your ears.
The facial muscles involved in opening and closing your mouth are linked to the TMJ. Actually, the jawbone movement is under the control of the TMJ which has the ability to rotate, move forward, backward, and side to side. Amongst medical professionals, TMJ is known to be one of the most frequently used joints of the body because of the joint’s intricate framework, in combination with its connected muscles and ligaments, in allowing us to chew, swallow, yawn, speak, and make facial expressions.
What is TMD?
Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD), also known as TMJ syndrome, is usually described with pain and tightness in and around the TMJ, rendering basic tasks such as speaking and eating to be a challenge.
Statistical figures exhibit that a greater incidence of the disorder is found in the female population compared to the male population; however, TMD is a common condition with as many as a million Americans afflicted by it.
What causes TMD?
Typically, what causes TMD are the following:
- Malocclusion or poor upper and lower teeth positioning: The main cause of temporomandibular disorder is when the upper and lower teeth do not fit well together. The dental misalignment applies undue stress on the TMJ, including the adjoining muscles that are involved with the jaw movement.
- In a large number of cases, TMD is caused by some damage or injury to the jaw bone, joint, or adjoining muscles.
- Those already with pre-existing arthritis are at a greater risk of developing TMD because of the steady joint degeneration that comes along with the disease.
- Those born with a jaw having certain structural defects have a greater likelihood of developing this disorder.
- Pain can be triggered in the TMJ when getting dental work as the joint is stretched open for long durations.
- Those with the bad habit of teeth clenching or grinding or chewing gum, a pen or pencil, or fingernails have greater chances of developing this condition.
- Bad body posture can lead to having an undue strain on the neck and facial muscles, leaving you vulnerable to TMJ pain.
- Constant use of ill-fitting partial or full dentures can lead to TMD.
- Orthodontic braces may also possibly make you prone to TMD.
- Lack of sleep and nutrition could also lead to the start of TMJ syndrome.
- Pregnant women secrete a hormone that causes relaxed and soft joints, worsening TMJ pain.
The Symptoms of TMD
TMD signs and symptoms may appear on one or both sides of the face. The condition’s discomfort can bring not only pain in the face, but also in the eyes, forehead, ears, and neck. Typical TMD signs and symptoms are:
- Dull, aching pain in the jaw joints and facial muscles, which may also involve the cheeks, neck, shoulders, and back.
- Difficulty in biting or chewing food.
- Finding it challenging in opening or closing the mouth.
- Restricted jaw movement.
- Tenderness in and around the affected TMJ.
- Persistent pain at resting position and worsening whilst eating, talking, and even just opening the mouth.
- Pain that contributes to earache, a ringing sensation in the ear, numbness in the ear, and possible hearing loss.
- Uncommon clicking or grating sound when opening or closing the mouth, which would be followed by pain and restricted jaw movement.
- Tension headaches and/or migraines.
- Sore, stiff, and tight neck muscles and jaw.
- Pressure behind the eyes and blurred vision.
- Having the face and mouth swollen on the affected side.
- The jaw having muscle spasms whenever the joint overstretches.
- Dizziness, vertigo, and nausea.
Tips and Home Remedies to Relieve Pain from TMJ Disorders
Problems of the jaw usually solve themselves in a few weeks to months. If you have recently been undergoing pain caused by TMJ and/or dysfunction, relief can be found with some or all of the following:
- Moist heat: Application of moist heat from a heat pack or hot water bottle enclosed by a warm, moist towel can assist in improving function and pain reduction. Be cautious to avoid burning yourself with heat.
- Ice: Ice packs not only reduce inflammation but they also numb pain and encourage healing. Avoid the ice pack from making direct contact with your skin by wrapping it with a clean towel. Also, avoid the use of the ice pack for more than 10 to 15 minutes.
- Jaw Exercises: Steady, gentle jaw exercising could assist in improving jaw mobility and healing. Asking a physical therapist to assess your condition and propose specific exercises to be done is greatly recommended.
- Soft Diet: Temporary rest is given to the jaw when consuming soft or blended foods. Avoid consuming hard, crunchy and chewy food. It would also be advised to avoid foods that stretch your mouth such as whole fruits or corn on the cob.
- Over the counter analgesics: People with TMJ disorders may find brief relief from jaw pain with the help of short-term use of over-the-counter pain medication or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen. Your dentist may prescribe stronger pain or anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxants, or antidepressants in alleviating symptoms.
- Sleeping on your side: When you sleep, it is advised to sleep on your side using pillow support between shoulder and neck.
- Relaxation techniques: Relaxation and guided imagery can aid you in managing the pain that accompanies TMJ dysfunction. Relaxation and modulation of pain sensations are enhanced with deep, slow breathing. Doing yoga, massage or meditation is useful in stress reduction and improves body relaxation.
- Relax Facial Muscles: Input effort on relaxing your lips whilst also keeping teeth apart.
- Rest the jaw: It is of prime importance to keep jaws of TMJ syndrome relaxed and stress-free. The jaws should be well-rested to encourage faster healing for the strained muscles and joints. Even with small symptoms of TMD, overexertion of the jaw would only make it worse. Resting of the jaw during the early stages of the disorder may inhibit or prevent further injury.
It should be emphasized that resting the jaw is of great importance especially at the earliest stage of the condition. Due to your myofascial muscles already being strained, minimizing jaw movement could potentially avoid further damage.
When to see a doctor
A dental appointment is to be arranged if you experience the following symptoms that could imply a plausible TMD case:
- Jaw movements are difficult.
- Immense pain in and around the jaw area.
- Clicking or popping noise when moving the jaw
TMJ treatment would need your doctor to carry out a physical examination and arrange an X-ray, CT, or MRI scan to diagnose the issue and eliminate other possibilities. If you find yourself having a locked jaw in either a wide-open or closed position, it is highly advised to bring yourself to a hospital’s emergency department.
Is TMD a permanent condition?
According to doctors, TMD is not permanent. In most cases, TMD patients can be assisted. The process can be similar to a broken bone– a cast is worn for a short duration, then physical therapy and rehab are pursued, then the patient can return to normal life.
If you wait too long and disregard the early signs of TMD, damage can arise which may be more difficult to treat. In such cases, TMD treatment would be necessary along with possible surgical intervention in aiding joint inflammation alleviation.
If you think you could be having TMD after having read this article, do get in touch with our experts who do specialize in TMJ treatment. If you are unsure about the dental pain you are suffering and its causes, do contact the German Dental Clinic that offers a wide range of dental services in assisting with any pain relevant to dental health.