Is your jaw sore frequently? Does it click when you open and close your mouth? If so, you may have temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders, otherwise referred to as TMJ. This family of disorders affects millions of Americans, and more women than men have problems with TMJ.
There are several symptoms that might indicate TMJ. The most common one is pain in the muscles of your jaw or in the jaw joint itself. You might also experience stiffness in your jaw, or your jaw might click or even lock when opening or closing your mouth. People who suffer from TMJ sometimes have radiating pain that runs along their jaw and down their neck, headaches, or earaches. A tell-tale sign is a change in the fit between your upper and lower teeth.
What Causes TMJ?
There are several common conditions that cause TMJ. Among these are arthritis, an injury to the jaw, or the way that the teeth fit together. TMJ can be aggravated by overusing jaw muscles, such as when one grinds their teeth. Interestingly, stress can also make TMJ worse.
Fortunately, the TMJ symptoms that most people experience tend to go away without medical intervention. There are things that you can do on your own to take care of it. Examples include eating foods that are soft, using ice packs to lessen pain and doing easy exercises that stretch the jaw. Also, people who have TMJ should avoid aggravating their jaw by doing things like yawning too widely or chewing gum.
Sometimes, however, TMJ needs medical intervention. The first step is diagnosis. Your dentist can help rule out other potential problems, like a tooth problem or a sinus issue – something that could cause the same symptoms as TMJ. During this diagnostic phase, your dentist might do things like take x-rays or make a plaster cast of your teeth to see if your teeth are fitting together properly, or if the way they are fitting together are contributing to the pain. Your dentist may eventually refer you to a specialist, but most often, that would occur after you had tried the treatments listed above and some of these:
Take special care of your jaw. Rest it, take an over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), like ibuprofen, and apply heat to the area where you are experiencing pain.
Relax. If stress is a major contributing factor to your TMJ symptoms, stress reduction techniques may be helpful. You might use relaxation training or meditation to help you lessen your stress level. If you grind your teeth at night, your dentist might provide a guard to help keep you from doing this.
Address alignment problems. If the way that your upper and lower teeth fit together is causing the pain in your jaw, you may need some type of adjustment. This could involve some work with an orthodontist in order to align your teeth so that the pain is alleviated.
I Think I Have TMJ. What Do I Do?
If you think you have TMJ, the first thing to do is to try some of the ways to treat it at home. Try to manage your stress, if that is one of the problems. Try an NSAID pain reliever, rest your jaw, and reduce any clenching or grinding that you do with your teeth.
If you cannot get adequate relief through these, consult your dentist. Be sure, if your dentist recommends a medical intervention, that it is a conservative one. If your dentist recommends something that is not reversible (like a surgery of some type), be sure to get a second opinion. Also, check with your insurance company to see about the types of medical treatments for TMJ that are covered.