Everyone has a TMJ, but not everyone has TMJ disorder.
What happens if you experience this dysfunction? Is it serious? That’s what we’ll cover in this guide on TMJ dysfunction.Creative Commons
What Is TMJ?
The Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) connects your jawbone to your skull and it acts sort of like a hainge, allowing you to open and close your mouth. You have one TMJ on either side of your jaw-skull connection.
So if you hear people say, “My jaw hurts — I probably have TMJ,” you can tell them, “You definitely have a TMJ, and so do I.”
What Is TMD?
TMD simply stands for Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction. This disorder can cause pain or soreness in these jaw joints and the surrounding muscles, either at the same time or separately.
This dysfunction used to be called TMJ Dysfunction, but the official terms is now TMD.
There are certain symptoms to look out for if you think you may have TMD:
- Pain, soreness, or tenderness in your jaw near one or both of the TMJ
- Pain or aching inside or around your ear(s)
- Discomfort or pain while chewing or talking
- Locking of the TMJ, which makes it difficult to open or close your mouth fully
- Clicking or grating sensation in your jaw when you open your mouth
What Causes TMD?
Unfortunately, the cause of TMJ dysfunction is not cut-and-dry. It’s hard to really nail down why it happens. It could be due to a number of things, including genetics, arthritis, or just an acute injury to your jaw.
People with TMD often clench their teeth or even grind them (this is called bruxism), but clenching or grinding doesn’t necessarly mean you’ll develop TMD. It can even come if you have issues with your dental crowns or dental bridges.
Most of the time, the pain that comes with a TMJ disorder doesn’t last forever. It often fades away, especially if you do things to relieve the pain and discomfort. Surgery is usually a last-ditch effort to fix the problem.
How Is TMJ Disorder Diagnosed?
There are many other conditions that cause similar symptoms, like sinus problems, tooth decay, arthritis, and even gum disease. To get to the bottom of what’s causing your problems, you should speak with your dentist.
What your dentist will do is check for pain and soreness, listen for clicking, grating, or popping sounds, and make sure your jaw opens and closely properly and easily. They’ll also test your bite and check your facial muscles.
Your dentist may also do an X-ray of your entire face to see your jawbone, TMJ, and teeth, just to make sure there aren’t any other problems. Along with that, they may need to do other tests, like an MRI or CT scan.
Furthermore, the dentist may refer you to an oral surgeon if your case is severe enough. The oral surgeon may talk to you about facial surgery to fully fix an jaw or mouth issues. If your case is not so severe, the dentist may instead send you to an orthodontist to get checked out.
TMD is often treatable without seeing a dentist or doctor through reducing stress and different techniques meant to relax the mind and muscles.
If you think you’re experiencing TMJ dysfunction, here are some things you can do at home:
- Ice packs on the sore areas
- Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or naproxen
- Eat soft foods
- Avoiding hard candy or chewing gum
- Gentle massaging of the jaw muscles
- Do jaw exercise, like stretching the jaw and neck muscles
- Aroma therapy (for stress relief)
However, sometimes home remedies are not enough to really get rid of the soreness in your jaw. That’s when you may need to see a doctor.
These are some of the things a dentist may utilize to help lessen TMJ pain:
- A dental splint — an appliance that keeps your teeth aligned and keeps you from grinding your teeth (if you get braces, that can help too as they can correct malocclusion)
- Botox — used to relax the jaw muscles
- Physical therapy — meant to strengthen muscles and improve flexibility
- Medical marijuana (in states where it’s legal)
- Biobehavioral management — this can include biofeedback and cognitive behavioral therapy
- Jaw surgery or jaw replacement (severe cases only)
- TMJ arthroscopy/arthrocentesis
- Prescription painkillers — muscles relaxers, anti-inflammatory, steroids, antidepressants, Benzodiazepines, sleep medications, nerve pain medications, opiates
As you can see, there are plenty of at-home treatment options as well as professionally administered options. So if you struggle with TMJ dysfunction, there are many roads to health that you can take.
- The symptoms of TMJ dysfunction can include jaw pain, soreness, aching, and even jaw locking.
- There is no known cause of TMJ dysfunction, but it could be due to grinding your teeth, genetics, or some sort of injury to the jaw.
- There are other conditions with similar symptoms to TMJ dysfunction, so to really be sure, you should get a diagnosis from your dentist.
- You can either treat TMJ dysfunction at home — with thing like ice packs, OTC NSAIDs, and TMJ exercises — or you can get it professionally treated — with things like Botox, a dental splint, and physical therapy.