TMJ or temporomandibular joint disease is caused when there is stress on the joint connecting the skull and the jaw, affecting its functioning. This joint is responsible for controlling the facial and jaw muscles while eating, talking or moving the jaw upwards, downwards or sideways.
When this joint faces trauma or stress of any kind, you will experience pain near the jaw, neck, head and ears. Grinding of teeth and misalignment of upper and lower teeth also causes this disorder. TMJ disorder treatment is based on what caused it in the first place. Let us understand more about TMJ, how you can identify and treat it.
Characteristics Of TMJ Disorder
Identifying different TMJ symptoms is the first step to begin treatment. Some identifiable characteristics of the disorder include:
– Mild or sharp pain in the jaw muscles during eating/chewing or speaking, with the pain extending to the ear, shoulders, neck and even arms.
– Inability to open the mouth widely or the jaw getting locked or stuck in an open or closed mouth position. A clicking or popping sound when you open or close the jaw or while eating is one of the major signs of TMJ disease.
– One or both sides of the face can swell up significantly.
– You may find it difficult to bite or chew due to the misalignment of the upper and lower teeth caused by TMJ disorder.
– Regular occurrence of headaches, earaches, neck pain, toothaches, hearing problem and constant ringing in your ears.
– In certain cases, some people even face trouble while speaking and pronouncing certain words.
Causes Of TMJ Disorder
TMJ disorder can be caused due to numerous reasons. Some are enlisted below:
- Degenerative Arthritis
When there are excessive compressive forces acting upon the temporomandibular joint along with chronically tight muscles while biting and chewing, the joint breaks under the pressure. It is a slow and prolonged process, instead of a one-time event. The jaw muscles have to be retrained through treatment to come to a normal and low tension state.
- Misalignment Of Upper And Lower Jaw Bone
When the upper and lower jaw bones do not fit in place properly, it puts additional stress on the jaw while chewing or even talking. Moreover, this leads to bruxism as the jaw constantly tries to fit itself in a rest position by grinding the teeth. This misalignment eventually causes TMJ disorder and a locked jaw.
- Muscular soreness
Tight facial and jaw muscles eventually develop muscle fatigue. You feel this fatigue as a mild or severe burn. The constant pressure on the jaw as a result of tight muscles leads to TMJ disease.
- Automobile accidents
Whiplash is a common injury in automobile accidents. This occurs when your head and neck suddenly snap forward during an accident. When this happens, your head is thrown faster than your muscles have the time to relax, which often result in it moving faster than your jaw. After the movement stops, your jaw can have some residual energy that has the potential to cause a hard impact into your skull. Even if you escape the accident with just a few scratches, do not ignore the headaches or pain in the jaw as it can be a TMJ syndrome.
- Contact sports
Sports such as boxing, wrestling or any other kind of martial arts involve potential blows to the face. The repetitive hits, punches and constant impact of gloves, fists or arms to the face can dislodge the jaw and seriously affect the temporomandibular joint and the adjoining muscles and cartilages. It is always advised for the players to use a mouth guard to minimize the effects of oral injuries.
It may sound like an unlikely culprit, but stress does lead to TMJ disorder. Many people have the habit of clenching or grinding the teeth during stressful times, which does serious harm to the jaw. The next time you find yourself in a stressful situation, make a conscious effort not to clench your jaw.
How To Cure TMJ Disorder Efficiently
Some of the most efficient cures include:
- Mouth Guard
Bruxism or grinding of teeth is one of the primary reasons for TMJ disorder. To address this problem, most dentists recommend their patients to wear a mouth guard. It is a silicone or plastic cover worn over teeth. It curbs the action of involuntarily grinding the teeth in your sleep. You can buy a generic mouth guard from any medical or even sports store, since these guards are extensively used in several contact sports such as martial arts, wrestling, and boxing. You can also get a guard that is custom molded for your teeth at the dentist’s office. Though this is an expensive option, it offers better results as compared to a generic one.
- Hot/Cold Packs
Hot and cold packs come in quite handy when your jaw hurts. Use a cold pack when there is a sharp pain. You can repeat the procedure after an hour if it still persists. If the pain is dull and mild, use hot packs. A warm towel should also do the trick. This will relieve the muscle tightness by increasing the blood circulation. This cure can easily be done at any place – so if you don’t have medication by your side, reach out for hot/cold packs to alleviate the pain.
- Proper diet
When your jaw is already hurting, it is best to avoid food products that are hard in texture. It puts a lot of pressure and strain on the jaw muscles and joint. Opt for a softer diet when there is intense pain and during medication. However, a softer diet doesn’t mean you compromise on the nutrition. Eat a well-balanced, yet soft diet. Additionally, drink lots of fluids as dehydration can cause tightness of the face muscles which increase the pain.
Shen Chao is part of Dr. Joshua Hong’s Smile Clinic. While working for the Smile Clinic, he’s gained first-hand experience into the questions and concerns that dental patients have. He has been writing to inform people about various dental topics to help his readers improve their oral health. When he’s not working, you can find him on a hiking trail with his dog or having a Sunday cook-out with friends.