TMJ: It's Nothing to Yawn About
Have you been ignoring that clicking sound coming from your jaw? Or are you quick to dismiss the stiff, achy feeling your mouth has in the morning? Don't let these things go unchecked! You might find yourself in for a rude awakening.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder ("TMJ" or "TMD"), a serious condition affecting the connective joint between the skull and jaw, often gets overlooked until it becomes severe. To keep TMJ at bay, get a closer look at the symptoms, causes and treatment options.
In addition to muscle stiffness and a noisy jaw, other symptoms of TMJ include:
- Inability to open your mouth completely without pain and difficulty
- Frequent "locking" sensation of the jaw when opening or closing your mouth
- Acute facial and/or neck pain and sensitivity while chewing or talking
- Constant earaches, tinnitus (a ringing sound in the ear), or pain close to your ears
- Discomfort while chewing, as if your teeth have shifted out of alignment
- Inexplicable facial swelling, usually around your cheeks
- Headaches or migraines that are chronic in nature
Some symptoms can occur without pain, and in certain cases, TMJ may be ruled out by the dentist. For your health and peace of mind, however, it's always wise to get a professional assessment.
Contributing Factors to TMJ
The direct cause of TMJ remains unclear, but there are many well-known risk factors and habits linked to the condition. Women between the ages of 20 and 40, in particular, are at heightened risk for TMJ, as are individuals with jaw abnormalities or deformities. Those who have suffered jaw or other facial injuries in the past are also more susceptible to TMJ.
From a behavioral perspective, repetitive actions that place added stress on the jaw (e.g. teeth grinding or excessive chewing of gum, icy or hard foods) could contribute to the problem. Poor posture, stress and arthritis are also associated with TMJ.
Treatment Options and Self-Care Suggestions
If your dentist has diagnosed you with TMJ, there are a few general treatment options. Extreme cases may require surgery, but for those with milder symptoms, anything from injections to prescription medications and/or dental splints (an appliance akin to a mouth guard) may be recommended.
There are also a number of things you can do at home to help ease the pain:
- Apply an ice pack to the problem area if swelling becomes an issue
- Pick foods that are easy to chew, and cut everything into bite-size pieces
- Go to physical therapy or get frequent massages to alleviate chronic symptoms
- Exercise your facial muscles regularly (consult your dentist for instructions)
- Add meditation or other relaxation techniques to your daily routine
The Long Term Outlook for TMJ
Depending on the severity of your condition, as well as your general health and lifestyle, your experience with TMJ may be temporary or more persistent in nature. Staying committed to the treatment plan advised by your dentist, however, can make things more manageable and help minimize painful flare-ups. If any of the symptoms or risk factors of TMJ apply to you, make it a priority to visit your dentist in the near future.