The temporomandibular joint connects your jaw to your skull on both sides of your head. This joint, commonly known as the TMJ, has a hinge-like motion that allows you to open and close your mouth with ease. TMJ disorders develop when something goes wrong with the jaw joint.
A variety of factors can contribute to TMJ disorder. Understanding what’s behind your jaw pain can help you better understand what you can do to find relief.
What Is a TMJ Disorder?
TMJ disorders are a group of conditions that affect the TMJ. They are sometimes referred to as TMD and can lead to pain in the jaw or dysfunction of the jaw joint. Often, TMJ disorders are grouped into three categories.
The first category is made up of TMJ disorders that cause myofascial pain, or pain in the muscles around the jaw joint. The second category involves damage to the joint itself, such as a dislocated jaw or disc. The final category of TMJ disorders are those associated with arthritis or inflammation of the joint.
What Causes TMJ Disorder?
Damage to the TMJ is often behind the signs and symptoms of TMJ disorders. But it can be tricky to pinpoint exactly what is causing the problem. In some cases, an injury to the jaw, such as getting hit in this area, can cause damage to the joint. In other cases, wear and tear on the joint due to arthritis can contribute to the problem. It’s also possible for the discs found in the joint to move out of place, leading to discomfort.
People who grind their teeth might have an increased risk of developing TMJ disorders because of the pressure placed on the jaw joint. In many cases, people develop the symptoms of a TMJ disorder without an easily identifiable cause.
What Are the Symptoms of TMJ Disorders?
One of the most common symptoms of a TMJ disorder is pain in the area of the jaw. This pain and discomfort can also travel, feeling as if it is in the ear or in other facial areas.
Another symptom of TMD is trouble chewing. It might hurt when you try to eat. You might also hear a popping noise or a “click” whenever you open your mouth. Some people also have trouble opening their mouths or closing their mouths entirely.
What You Can Do About TMJ Disorder at Home
Most often, the recommended treatment for the discomfort associated with TMD is conservative, at-home treatment. In many instances, the TMJ pain and discomfort is temporary and resolves on its own with some care and attention. A dentist or medical provider might recommend taking pain relievers and performing exercises to help strengthen the muscles around the jaw.
One exercise that can help relieve TMD discomfort involves placing the tongue just behind the top two front teeth. With the tongue in that position, a person should slightly open their mouth, so that the muscles of the jaw relax.
Another exercise to ease TMD symptoms involves placing the tongue just behind the two front teeth and placing a finger on the TMJ, just in front of the ear. To do the exercise, a person opens their mouth while placing one finger on the chin. They then close their mouth again and repeat multiple times.
Is Surgery an Option for TMD?
Although conservative treatments are usually the preferred course of action for managing the symptoms of TMD, there are cases when surgery or a more invasive procedure might help. For example, some people find relief from wearing a splint or mouthguard while others benefit from corticosteroid injections.
Surgery for TMD can take multiple forms. In some instances, the joint itself requires surgical work. In other instances, the surgeon might perform a procedure on the mandible, or jaw bone, and not the joint itself.
Generally speaking, surgery is considered a “last resort” for TMJ disorders and is only considered if nothing else has worked. The risks and challenges of surgery on the jaw joint are often considerably greater than the benefits the procedure provides.
If you have the signs of TMJ disorder, your dentist can work with you to help you come up with a treatment plan that provides the most relief. Dr. John Paul Gallardo is a periodontal specialist in the Miami area who also offers TMJ treatments. He can recommend options that are right for your needs. To schedule an appointment in Miami, FL, call 305-547-8687 today.