If you have severe jaw pain or problems closing your mouth but can’t remember the last time you were in a fistfight, you may be suffering from temporomandibular joint, or TMJ (no wonder there’s an abbreviation). This joint connects the lower jaw, or mandible, to the side of the skull via the temporal bone. It is responsible for the opening and closing of your mouth, so the joint can become stressed, weakened, and fatigued over time. With how difficult the name is to pronounce, you would assume it would be a rare condition that doesn’t affect most people. But, unfortunately, 1 out of every three people experience symptoms of TMJ. It is the second most common type of musculoskeletal pain, right after lower back pain.
With such a considerable percentage of the population experiencing severe jaw and mouth pain, it is concerning that most people don’t know how to get any relief from their discomfort.
Understanding the Cause of TMJ
Dentists and researchers once thought that TMJ arose solely because of trauma or injury to the jaw. However, with more recent studies, like this one from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, we are starting to understand more about the causes of this painful condition.
While trauma to the jaw or the joint itself may be responsible for some of the diagnoses, scientists have now started to uncover a link between hormones and TMJ symptoms, as it occurs more often in women than in men. Hormones could explain why most people diagnosed with TMJ can’t pinpoint an occurrence of injury or any apparent reason for their pain.
How Do I Know If I Have TMJ?
What you might think is a toothache in the back of your mouth could turn out to be TMJ. If you ask most sufferers of the condition what their main symptom was, they would probably tell you severe pain in the jaw. This list of symptoms is not necessarily exhaustive:
- Severe ongoing pain or comes and goes in the face, jaw, or neck.
- Stiffness of the jaw or facial muscles.
- Limited movement or complete locking of the jaw.
- Clicking sound or a popping sensation when opening/closing the mouth.
- A change in the way the upper and lower teeth fit together.
- Frequent headaches, migraines, or earaches.
- Anxiety, mood swings, and behavior changes like trouble sleeping and irritability due to pain.
Again, you may have other symptoms in addition to this list that may have you concerned. In that case, we encourage you to schedule an appointment with one of our dentists at East Harmony Dental.
Finally, Some Relief
While we recommend that you see a dentist to confirm your TMJ diagnosis, there are some things you can do at home to help alleviate some of the pain you are experiencing.
- Alternate a hot and cold compress on the jaw every 20 minutes.
- When severe, take ibuprofen. This will help with the pain and inflammation of the joint.
- Talk to your dentist about utilizing a mouthguard to prevent grinding your teeth at night.
- Avoid frequent use of the jaw by eliminating foods that require excessive chewing or jaw movement.
- Practice these TMJ exercises a couple of times during the day as long as it does not increase the discomfort.
When it comes to long-term ‘fixes’ of TMJ, you may require physical therapy, steroid injections, or prescription medication to manage inflammation and pain. If home remedies are not helping, please see a dentist.
Any of our premier dentists at East Harmony Dental can help address your concerns and put a plan in place to help alleviate your TMJ symptoms. We are also proud to offer emergency dental services, routine care, and specialized procedures to new and returning patients.