Before kick-starting the discussion on TMJ or TMD, this article would throw some light on what the issues are. A TMJ/TMD refers to the temporomandibular joint or a temporomandibular disease. The connector joint between the lower jaw (mandible) and the portion of the skull there (the temporal bone in front of the ear) is referred to as the TMJ. The surrounding facial muscles that help you chew your food are related to this joint too.
Now, how would you know that you are actually suffering from a Temporomandibular joint syndrome? The answer is: there are a number of signs that let you know of it.
Symptoms to tell that you have a TMJ/ TMD
- An overall facial pain that specially hurts at the back portion of your cheeks (near the ears)
- Head and neck pain or even a ear pain
- A locked jaw while yawning or simply taking your food in
- Difficulty in biting hard items
- A popping sound in the ears while trying to bite on a piece of food.
- Swelling on one side (the affected the side) of your face
The mechanism that aids you in your mouth movements
Muscles that are involved in chewing (mastication) are responsible partly for opening and closing the mouth. The jawbone exhibits two movements: the hinge action, which is opening and closing of the mouth, and the gliding action. Gliding is a movement that allows the mouth to open wider. The coordination of these two movements alone, allows you to talk, chew, bite and yawn.
Placing your fingers just in front of your ears, if you open your mouth, the joint and its movement is clearly felt. In order to open your mouth, the ends of the lower jaw glide along the joint socket of your temporal bone. This gliding is possible because the ends the jawbone is actually rounded. The ends of the lower jaw again slide back to their original position when the mouth is closed. This motion needs to be kept smooth. For this purpose, a soft disk of cartilage lies between the condyle (ends of the jawbone that actually slides) and the temporal bone. This disk absorbs any shock to the Temporomandibular joint from trauma or a simple bite! The disk also successfully distributes the forces of chewing throughout the entire mouth.
When a patient is suffering from TMJ/TMD, he or she is may be faced with wearing out of this disk or any other issue with jaw bone or even the surrounding facial muscles!
Before getting into which oral part has been affected that is causing your TMJ/TMD, dentists consider it more important to detect the underlying cause behind the pain. Since usually, it is often one of our daily habits or a lifestyle factor that causes the pain, management of the pain, therefore, becomes the first step to treatment!
What are the factors that can cause TMJ pain?
Trauma: Trauma is a sudden affair. The impact of any trauma depends on what level of impact was created during the incident. For instance, a punch or a heavy blow will have different impacts. The latter could even break the jawbone, cause dislocation of the joint or damage the cartilage disc there! On the other hand, a trauma could also be an injury during any oral procedure.
Bruxism: Bruxism, or teeth grinding, consists of continual hammering on the Temporomandibular joint. This could result in muscle spasm or even severe inflammation coupled with pain. Usually, the habit of grinding is practiced mostly unconsciously during sleep. In some cases, the grinding may be so loud that it disturbs others!
Chewing gums: Continuous consumption of chewing gums puts a lot of stress on the particular joint we are discussing. Continuous chewing of not only gums but other things like – your pen, pencil, or fingernails may cause the same stress. The constant pounding on the joint causes pain.
Stress: Often stress is blamed for throwing the person into the habit of jaw clenching. While you are tensed, you might be in the habit of chewing a pen or pencil or simply grinding your teeth. Antidepressants are often administered to treat this illness thus.
Osteoarthritis: Like other joints in the body, your jaw might face arthritic problems too. Usually, the breakdown of the joint (degeneration) or the usual wear and tear due to aging are the viable reasons. The degenerative joint disease is known to cause a slowly progressive loss of cartilage and formation of new bone at the surface of the joint. The prevalence of cartilage destruction increases normal aging and leads to a growing pain.
Rheumatoid arthritis: RA causes inflammation in joints. This can also affect the TMJ. The progression of RA may result in the destruction of cartilage, erode bone, and eventually cause joint deformity. Since this is an autoimmune disease, pain management consists of self exercises and conservative pain relievers only.
How is TMJ treated?
A TMJ treatment does not amount to much use of medications. Besides conservative treatment, as discussed already, it largely relies on lifestyle alterations. Among them, to list a few significant ones are –
- Ice pack application to the area of the joint (from above your cheeks)
- Over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen
- Avoid biting on hard foods for some time
- Avoiding chewing gums
- Massage or gentle self-stretching exercises concerning the jaw and neck muscles
- Relaxation techniques and stress management methods.
- Some essential oils (such as lavender, chamomile, etc.) may perform sedative functions and provide temporary relief from the pain.
Despite all efforts, if your TMJ pain seems unmanageable and remains unaltered, it’s high time that you lookout for the best TMJ specialist near you. Your dentist could recommend the use of certain orthodontic appliances such as braces (to do away with faulty occlusions) or mouth guard (to keep bruxism at bay).
However, when all of these do not seem to yield significant results, your dentist might turn to the last resort – a surgical intervention. Therefore, it’s highly recommended that your TMJ pain should not be lingered on if self-management yields no results. An affordable dentist near you would suggest you with apt solutions that would be both cost-effective and time-saving! Surgical options might include open joint surgery, injections at the joint, TMJ arthroscopy and so on.