The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint that links the skull and the jaws. It is found in front of the ears, where the bone moves when you open your mouth. The TMJ is the only joint in the jaw and is responsible for movements such as chewing, talking, yawning, laughing, and other similar actions. Without the TMJ, we would not be able to move our mouth or eat our food. A TMJ that is damaged or in pain can make one’s life very difficult because of the essential role it plays in the activities of everyday living.
Disorders Associated with TMJ
The TMJ, like most parts of the body, can be damaged for various reasons. When a person is suffering from TMJ disorders, the quality of life decreases significantly and it can affect not only the person’s work, but also his or her mood, disposition, outlook on life, and interpersonal skills. TMJ disorders may be due to the dislocation of the jaw joints or the deterioration of joint health.
Symptoms of TMJ Disorders
Some of the signs that indicate TMJ disorder include:
- Pain in the jaws, cheeks, and the area in front of the ears;
- Inflammation of the jaws;
- Lockjaw or difficulty in moving the jaw joints;
- Inability to open the mouth widely;
- Pain when chewing or talking;
- Clicking, popping, or other sounds coming from jaw movements;
- Pain in the head, neck, or other areas near the jaws;
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
Other patients have also reported dizziness and nausea due to very severe TMJ disorders.
Causes of TMJ Disorders
Patients who suffer from TMJ disorders may have acquired them because of the following:
- Bruxism (teeth grinding). Teeth grinding is common in people who have high stress levels. This involuntary action often happens during sleep and may be left undiagnosed, unless a loved one or sleeping companion points it out to the patient. Grinding the teeth applies unnecessary pressure and strain on the teeth and jaws, resulting in TMJ disorders.
- Jaw clenching. Some individuals may frequently clench their teeth when experiencing anger or pain. If this becomes a habit, it can lead to TMJ disorders because of the excessive pressure applied on the jaws.
- Osteoarthritis. Commonly diagnosed in the elderly, osteoarthritis can also affect the jaw joints. This disorder is characterized by the reduction of the cartilage that protects the joints, exposing them and making them swell.
- Excessive strain. The jaw joints can experience excessive strain because of frequent gum chewing, eating very hard or chewy foods, biting down on hard non-food items, opening the mouth too long or too widely, and abrupt mouth movements.
- Trauma. Individuals who suffered from whiplash or other injuries close to the head and neck may display symptoms of TMJ.
Diagnosis of TMJ Disorders
Some patients may not know that they have TMJ disorders because they do not experience any symptoms. However, during a comprehensive oral examination, dentist may recognize TMJ disorders through X-rays and close observation. A popping or clicking sound whenever the jaw is opened or closed is a positive sign of TMJ disorder. Patients who report suffering from symptoms similar to those of TMJ disorders may be further evaluated to see if there is any particular sign of TMJ deterioration.
Treatment for TMJ Disorders
- Mouth splints and dental appliances. Dental appliances are worn usually while sleeping to reduce the force of teeth grinding. These are similar to mouthguards but are custom-made to fit every patient’s mouth.
- Pain relievers. Dentist may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help alleviate the pain in your joints.
- Surgery. In the most severe cases, surgery may be needed to relocate the jaw joints and/or restore the health and functionality of the joints.
For mild symptoms, you may do the following home remedies to alleviate pain:
- Use hot and cold compress. Hot compress helps relieve tightness in the muscles and relaxes the jaws, while cold compress removes inflammation and pain.
- Stay on a soft diet. If the cause of your TMJ disorder is eating very hard foods, it’s best to stay on a soft diet. You can do this by cooking your food very well, softening them in a sauce or broth, or pureeing them.
- Don’t move your jaws too frequently. Avoid talking too much, chewing gum, or laughing too hard. Don’t open your jaws too widely to prevent them from locking.
- Practice relaxation techniques. Meditation, yoga, and deep breathing help relieve stress and alleviate bruxism. It also helps you avoid teeth clenching when you experience extreme emotions.
- Biofeedback. This therapeutic practice trains you to control your body signals and modify them to reduce pain, discomfort, and stress. It is also a form of relaxation technique.