Hearing and feeling your jaw click isn’t comforting. On the contrary, it can be downright painful. Yet it is a constant reality for over 10 million Americans, who suffer with temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders (TMJ).
TMJ is marked by chronic jaw pain, difficulty chewing, and clicking and locking of the jaw. Many people with the disorder also experience frequent headaches, pain in their face or mouth, joint crackling, and muscle spasms.
The temporomandibular joint is a hinge that attaches the jaw to the temporal bones of the skull, which are located in front of the ears. This joint allows movement of the jaw back and forth and up and down, ushering in the ability to talk, yawn, and eat. When the functioning of this part of the body is hindered, it can make everyday activities difficult.
Causes of TMJ
Surprisingly little is known about temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders. Medical professionals do not know what causes the disorder, although there are several potential reasons it can develop. Some of these include:
- injury to the jaw, neck, or joint
- arthritis in the joint
- grinding or clenching of teeth, which leads to tremendous pressure on the joints
- stress, which results in a tightening of the jaw
- movement of the soft cushion between the ball and socket of the joint.
A diagnosis is usually made after a physical exam and health history review. The doctor or dentist will examine the jaw joints for clicking, popping, and tenderness, followed by a look at whether the jaw opens and closes as it should. An x-ray may be ordered to rule out other concerns, while an MRI or CT scan can provide a closer look at the positioning and bony details.
Depending on the severity of a person’s condition, there are several treatment options. Home treatments may include hot and cold packs, a soft-food diet, and over-the-counter pain medications. Medical interventions may include:
A physical therapist can provide oral exercises and massage to reduce the jaw pain associated with TMJ.
A dentist can provide a splint or night guard that reduces the impact of nighttime clenching and grinding. A dentist can also replace missing teeth and use braces, bridges, or crowns to better align the bite.
Other treatment options include trigger point injections, TENS therapy, surgery, and radio wave therapy.
If you suffer from chronic jaw pain, you aren’t alone. Help is available. For non-invasive treatment, you can try physical therapy or at-home methods of pain relief. An oral surgeon, dentist, or orthodontist can provide more aggressive methods of treatment as well. Regardless of which route you go, it’s important to seek the help you deserve so that TMJ doesn’t ruin your day.