The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects the lower jaw, called the mandible, to the bone at the side of the head—the temporal bone. This joint allows the jaw to move smoothly up and down and side to side giving us the ability to chew food, talk, yawn etc.
To keep this joint working smoothly their lies a soft disc between the temporal bone and the condyle (the rounded ends of the lower jaw). This disc acts as a shock absorber.
TMJ disorders are an umbrella term to diagnose the pain or discomfort a person may experience either in the TMJ joint itself or with the muscles that surround and control the joint.
This pain can be extreme for some people, preventing them from having full function or control of the joint.
Symptoms & Causes:
The signs and symptoms can include pain or tenderness in and around the jaw, aching pain in or around the ear, difficulty chewing or pain while chewing, a feeling of the jaw locking making it hard to open and close the mouth.Scientists are still researching the specific causes of the disorder. However, trauma to the joint, such as a blow to the joint area, is a major component of a person suffering from TMJ pain. Other causes may include the disc has eroded or has moved out of proper alignment, the joint is damaged by arthritis, stress can also be a factor as well as teeth grinding.
Here’s How to Treat it
In most cases, TMJ pain will go away by itself or can be managed with simple self-care treatments. These can include:
- Eating soft food
- Applying ice packs to the joint
- Avoiding extreme jaw movement
- Practicing stress-reducing and relaxation techniques, particularly before bedtime.
- Practicing gentle jaw stretching and relaxing exercises
- Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen
If your pain is more severe and the above-mentioned treatments do not aid your pain, then seeking medical advice would be your next option. Once diagnosed, your doctor or dentist may suggest oral appliances such as a mouth-guard or splint, physical therapy, acupuncture, or counseling. If you do not respond to these more conservative procedures and the pain persists your practitioner may suggest surgery, but these cases are very rare.