Your Guide to TMJ: From Causes to Cures
If you have trouble chewing or suffer from constant headaches and jaw pain, you may be among the 12% of Americans with TMJ disorder.
TMJ is one of the most pain-inducing musculoskeletal conditions in the US. For many, TMJ is debilitating and stressful. Thankfully, treating and relieving the symptoms of a TMJ disorder is possible.
Below, I’ve outlined everything you need to know about this condition. Use this guide to learn more about this common disorder, then give me a call to discuss your treatment options. I would love to help relieve your TMJ pain.
What Is TMJ
TMJ stands for “temporomandibular joints”. These joints are located right in front of your ears and connect your lower and upper jaw. Your TMJ joints work in conjunction with your muscles, discs, and ligaments to allow support and function of your jaw.
Sometimes these joints don’t work properly, causing pain and limited movement in the jaw and surrounding muscles. This is referred to as temporomandibular joint disorder-- but most people simply call it TMJ or TMD.
What Causes TMJ?
To understand what causes TMJ disorder, you first need to know how your temporomandibular joints (the TMJ in TMJI) work. Your TMJ joints combine with several jaw muscles to make many different movements-- including the rotating and gliding actions used when chewing and speaking
I often tell my patients to think of these joints as a door hinge. This door hinge movement of your jaw is generally smooth. However, there are various ways you can injure or damage your TMJ joint, causing a disruption in this smooth motion.
Without the ability to smoothly rotate and glide your jaw, you will experience pain. There are several problems that can prevent the smooth opening and closing of your jaw, including:
- Misalignment of the teeth
- Grinding or clenching your teeth
- Stress, causing tightening of your facial muscles and jaw
- Poor posture
- Excessive gum chewing
- An injury to your jaw, neck, or head
Signs and Symptoms of TMJ
The most obvious sign of a TMJ disorder is a tender or painful jaw. However, there are a few other symptoms you should keep an eye out for.
- Jaw clicking or popping when you eat
- Ear pain
- Constant headaches or pain in your temples and behind your eyes
- Stiff or sore jaw muscles
- Locking of your jaw joint
- Your jaw going out of place
- Face swelling
If you are suffering from any of these symptoms, it’s important to talk with your dentist immediately.
How TMJ Affects Your Health
Left untreated, TMJ can have devastating effects on both your oral and overall health.
TMJ pain causes your jaw bite to change. When your bite and occlusion (the meeting of your top and bottom teeth) are affected, your mouth cannot work properly. This can cause wear and tear on your teeth, jaw, and gums. It can even damage any prior dental work you’ve had done.
Beyond your oral health, severe TMJ can lead to other issues such as eating disorders, lack of sleep, and even hearing problems. Don’t ruin your health by not treating your TMJ!
How to Prevent TMJ
There are several ways you can prevent TMJ disorders from starting or getting worse. Women especially should take steps to prevent this issue as they are three times as likely than men to experience TMJ.
The simplest method for preventing TMJ pain is something everyone needs a little more of in life-- relaxation! There are a few ways you can focus on relaxing your face and jaw.
Try Yoga or Other Relaxation Methods
Find a relaxation technique that helps you unwind after a busy day or week. Many people find yoga to be a great method for relaxation. Others prefer a massage, breathing techniques, or warm towels on the face. Whatever it is that helps you relax, make an effort to incorporate it into your life.
Avoid Clenching Your Jaw
Constantly clenching your jaw together can wear out and damage your jaw. Keep your teeth apart when you’re not eating or swallowing. If you notice you're clenching your teeth together, immediately relax your jaw.
Don’t Chew Gum
Keep yourself from overusing your jaw. Avoid constantly chewing gum or biting your nails. Even holding a telephone between your shoulder and jaw for long periods can be problematic.
Sit Up Straight
Your posture has an effect on your facial bones and muscles. Focus on sitting up straight and keeping your shoulders back when standing.
TMJ Treatment Options
TMJ is not a one-size-fits-all issue. Your treatment will vary based on the cause of your TMJ pain. A few TMJ treatments I often recommend include:
- Wear A Night Guard: The most common form of TMJ pain treatment is to get fitted for a mouth guard. You will wear this at night and helps prevent you from grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw at night.
- Get Invisalign: If the cause of your TMJ pain is an occlusion issue, Invisalign or braces may be able to fix the alignment of your bite.
- Try Occlusal Equilibration: This method gentle adjusts your mouth so your lower and upper teeth meet correctly. Your dentist will aim to gently equilibrate your bite to help get rid of jaw pain.
- Visit a Physical Therapist: In some cases, seeing a licensed physical therapist (PT) may be your best option. A PT can help you relax, stretch, and release tight muscles that may be contributing to your TMJ pain.
Talk To Us About Your TMJ Symptoms!
If you are experiencing symptoms of TMJ, don’t hesitate to call us and schedule an appointment. Our team here at Caitlin Batchelor Dentistry is dedicated to helping you with your individual dental needs-- including diagnosing, preventing, and treating TMJ pain.
Call our friendly office staff today at (540) 432-9992.