What You Need to Know About TMJ Disorders, Including Simple Treatments

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what you need to know about tmj disorders including simple treatments

Your temporomandibular joint connects your mandible (your bottom jaw) to your temporal bone (the bone on each side of your head). You’ll often see the temporomandibular joint referred to as your TMJ. The joint includes a small soft disc that sits where your temporal bone and the ends of your lower jaw (called condyles) meet. That soft disc is a shock absorber that soaks up some of the tension and strain placed on the joint while you use your jaw.

When it’s working properly, it’s your TMJ that allows your bottom jaw to move up and down to allow you to sing, speak, yawn, chew, and more. It may be obvious when you think of it, but it’s only your bottom jaw that moves when you do any of those things. Your upper jaw does not move (except when your whole head moves). For that reason, your TMJ is an incredibly important joint that you just can’t live normally without.

We said that’s what your TMJ does when “it’s working properly.” But here’s the rub. According to the Canadian Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, as many as 25 to 30% of Canadians suffer from TMJ disorders.

  • That’s an umbrella phrase that includes different medical phenomena, but here are symptoms that many of those disorders have in common:

  • Pain in your jaw

  • Ear aches and pain around the area of your ear

  • Problems chewing

  • Pain while chewing

  • Difficulty opening and closing your jaw completely

  • Clicking or popping sounds while opening and closing your mouth

What causes TMJ disorders?

That’s a complex question that frankly hasn’t been completely answered yet. Researchers continue to investigate the causes and risk factors for TMJ problems. Some causes and risk factors are relatively well understood. They include:

  • Trauma and injury to the jaw, face, and head

  • Erosion suffered by the disk within the joint

  • Misalignment of the joint

  • Arthritis

  • Grinding of your jaw and clenching of your teeth which, itself, is caused by several factors

How are TMJ disorders treated?

There are a wide range of options for TMJ treatment near you. What sequence or combination of options will help any particular person depends on their individual circumstances. Treatment options range from lifestyle changes, to relatively gentle interventions, medication injections, and more invasive surgical options.

Many people find they can eliminate or minimize symptoms of TMJ disorders by trying some combination of these six self-care options before exploring the appropriateness of more intensive treatments:

  • Avoiding hard and chewy foods, and focusing on eating soft foods at least part of the time

  • Using cold compresses on the joint on both sides of your face when experiencing symptoms

  • Attempting to avoid extreme jaw movement at either extreme, i.e. forcing your mouth open completely, clenching your jaw, and using your jaw to hold hard objects in place

  • Attempting relaxation and stress-reduction techniques. For many people, best results are obtained by trying these calming approaches just before going to bed

  • Using gentle stretching techniques with the muscles in and around your neck, face and jaw

  • Using over-the-counter pain medications containing ibuprofen when experiencing distracting symptoms

  • Wearing a night guard provided by your dentist in Seton to place your jaw into the ideal position to minimize strain on your TMJ.

Are you experiencing symptoms that might be associated with your TMJ? The last thing we want you to do is diagnose yourself with TMJ disorders or any medication condition, but the most important thing you should do is tell a dentist near you about your symptoms so they can examine your teeth and jaw and recommend options for TMJ treatment in Seton. Some small and relatively simple changes may be enough to ease your symptoms.