TMJ. Those of you have TMJ syndrome are likely already shaking your head in understanding. Those of you who don’t, be thankful. Take the advice of those who do and read this post to appreciate steps you can take to avoid developing it.
TMJ (temporomandibular joint) syndrome/disorders refer to symptoms developed in the chewing muscles and joints connecting your lower jaw to your skull. In other words, you’re having problems with your jaw joint. Given that the TMJ closes your mouth, and you’re using it all day to talk and chew, having this poses a lot of problems.
To understand various causes of TMJ, start by appreciating that most anything affecting all the various structures connecting the joint can contribute to the disorder. This includes problems with the joint itself or to its surrounding muscles, tendons and bones. Therefore, there isn’t just one cause. Many things you do or have done can contribute to difficulties with the joint. Here are some examples:
- Arthritis (degenerative joint disease)
- Having a bad (poorly aligned) bite
- Having to wear braces
- Lack of sleep (insufficient rest and recuperation for overworked muscles)
- Poor diet
- Poor posture (e.g., holding the head forward while looking at a computer all day, straining the muscles of the face and neck)
- Stress and grinding your teeth
- Trauma to the jaw resulting in fractures or dislocations
Knowing this makes prevention easy.
- Limit or avoid hard foods and excessively chewing gum. Although you don’t think about it much, you can wear out the joints in your mouth just as you can a hip or a knee.
- Learn to reduce your overall levels of stress and muscle tension.
- Practice and maintain good posture of your head and neck.
- Use protective measures when engaged in activities that can produce jaw fractures and dislocations.
- Aching facial pain
- Clicking, popping or grating of the mouth when opening or closing it
- Difficulty opening and/or closing the mouth
- Difficulty/pain biting or chewing
- Jaw pain or tenderness
- Locking of the jaw
Treatment strategies vary widely based on severity and cause of the joint issues. Many patients get by with over the counter medications, relaxation techniques, heat or ice to the face and prevention of additional damage. More complicated measures may include use of prescription pain medicines, muscle relaxants, corticosteroids or antidepressants. Bite guards (aka splints, mouth guards/appliances) may be recommended if you have problems with teeth grinding. Your physician will make appropriate recommendations based on your individual circumstances.
The good news is for many patients symptoms come and go, and they are reasonably well treated with minor interventions. The bad news is if you go unidentified or untreated, you may suffer chronic facial pain and/or headache, and this is not a pleasant experience. Therefore, if you discover yourself having difficulty opening and closing your mouth or eating, please address it early and see your doctor or dentist right away. You really don’t want to deal with the consequences of inaction.
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