TMJ – A Real Pain in the Jaw
Do you have jaw pain, headaches or painful popping when opening and closing your mouth? Dentists agree that these three symptoms are the leading components of diagnosing Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD). Many professionals commonly use the term TMJ (temporomandibular joint) when speaking of disorders of the jaw. TMJ is where the mandible (jaw bone) meets the skull, which allows for opening and closing of the mouth as well as side-to-side movements. More than 15% of Americans suffer from TMD on a daily basis.
Causes: TMD encompasses an assortment of conditions that can affect the temporomandibular joint, jaw musculature and facial nerves and can be very painful.
Dysfunction may arise from:
- Repetitive or sustained movements of the jaw such as chewing gum or clenching your teeth
- Trauma to the face from a motor vehicle accident or a blow to the jaw from recreational activities
- Prolonged movements of the neck possibly from sleeping in an awkward position
- Malalignment of teeth (dental malocclusion)
- Poor posture
- Painful opening/closing of the jaw which may include “clicking” or “popping.”
- Jaw may lock in an open or closed position
- Headaches and ear pain
- Deviation of the jaw to one side upon opening
- Limited ability to open mouth
- Difficulty with chewing
Treatment: Once correctly diagnosed, it is important to begin treatment as quickly as possible as the TMJ is one of the most active joints in the body. Typical treatment would start with rest of the joint as well as over-the-counter or prescribed medication to decrease pain and discomfort. Heat and ice may also be beneficial. Physical therapy can provide conservative treatments directed at minimizing pain through increasing joint range of motion, techniques for muscle relaxation, re-training of muscle that performs chewing, postural re-education and activity modification. Some tips that may help relieve jaw discomfort in the absence of therapy would be controlled breathing (in through the nose, out through the mouth) and limiting jaw movements that instigate pain which may mean altering your diet to foods that are easier to chew.