Treatments for Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome (TMJ)

October 9, 2015

For those with TMJ, jaw pain and how to relieve it can be all you think about. Fortunately, it's not usually serious, and there are steps you can take to stop and prevent pain from getting in your way.

Treatments for Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome (TMJ)

If you have pain when you open and close your mouth, you may have temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ), a name that sounds more like a dinosaur than a dental condition.

  • The disorder, which affects almost one in six people, most of them women, causes pain and tenderness in the joint by each ear where the lower jawbone joins the temporal bone at the side of the head.
  • It's the busiest joint in the body. Its flexibility allows your jaw to move both up and down and side to side.
  • When the joint is out of sorts you may experience not only pain and tenderness but earaches, headaches, toothaches, and difficulty opening your mouth as far as you used to.

Causes of TMJ

One of the leading causes is grinding or clenching your teeth during the day and at night. This can wear out the small disc that helps absorb the stress of the jaw's movements.

  • If the disc erodes or becomes misaligned or damaged, you can experience pain or a popping sound when the jaw moves.
  • You can also develop TMJ if the joint's cartilage is damaged by osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, the joint is injured, or the joint muscles give out from clenching and grinding.
  • Your posture may contribute: Sitting all day in one position can strain the muscles in your face and neck. Of course, the cause determines how your doctor will address your pain.
  • Treatment can include anything from a trip to the dentist to surgery, but the simplest treatments are often the most effective.

Take heart

When pain stabs you in the jaw, it's hard to think about much else. But ninety percent of TMJ patients improve on their own or with minimal treatment, such as anti-inflammatories, softer food, and a mouth guard.

At the doctor's

Your doctor or dentist will first ask about you and your pain: How long have you had it? What kind of pain is it? Have you had an injury to your jaw or recent dental treatment?

  • Dental work can sometimes trigger TMJ pain because procedures can place too much pressure on the jaw, pushing your jaw backward, or because your mouth has to be wide open for long periods.
  • He'll also check your teeth and bite and listen for clicking noises when you move your jaw. He'll even inquire about your stress levels.

Serious help

  • Most of the time, fairly simple approaches can clear up TMJ. However, when those don't work, you may need to see an oral surgeon who will take images of the joints and may prescribe surgery.
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