Have you been feeling pain and tenderness in or around your ear, the jaw joint, and jaw muscles lately? Don’t be too quick to dismiss them and listen to what your body is telling you. You might be suffering from Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorder.
Now, after trying your best to say the disorder’s name correctly, read on, and understand the meaning behind your pain.
There is so much mystery surrounding Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, and it’s about time we put this affliction in the spotlight. Before delving deep into the condition, first, get acquainted with your Temporomandibular joints.
These joints connect your jawbone to the skull. They get busy whenever you talk, chew, and swallow. TMJ is not just a single tissue or organ. It is a complex combination of muscles, tendons, and bones. When they develop injuries, you’ll feel pain on either side of your jaw, sometimes both. Other patients also reported pain when they’re not chewing, and even when their jaw was merely at rest.
People who experienced jaw injury, inflammation, and arthritis are the most susceptible. Though, it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of TMJ. Factors such as genetics, body composition, and daily habits come into play.
The Canadian Dental Association even mentioned how stress could be a possible factor. Some people (and perhaps even you), unconsciously clench their jaws and grind their teeth. When this happens, the muscles around the jaw tightens exerting immense pressure. Once this happens, the jaw joints and the muscles around it become strained.
Your jaw muscles become stimulated when undergoing high levels of stress. This phenomenon is likely similar to your fight or flight response. The trigeminal nerve, the pain you’ve been feeling is associated with your joints losing their alignment. This nerve is responsible for sensation and motor functions. When excited in an overdrive state, your jaw joints experience an abnormal amount of pressure.
Jaw pain could be an indication of TMJ disorder. Hearing a clicking sound or when you feel your molars grinding with each other could also be a red flag. You might also experience an aching pain around or in your ear, jaws, and face. Tooth pain and difficulty when chewing are also tell-tale symptoms. In worse cases, the joints lock, making it harder to close your mouth.
In most cases, TMD can naturally go away without any treatment. To cope better with pain, putting a warm or cold compress over your jaws helps alleviate the aching. A soft diet will help your jaw joints get a break from work. Also, it might be best to keep your mouth from fully opening. Rare cases of TMD require surgery if you have chronic teeth grinding habits, and it’s already getting hard for you to open your mouth.
If TMD symptoms persist, opt for a thorough examination, including x-ray. Your dentist can prescribe a patient-specific plan towards recovery. They may refer you to a trained physiotherapist, chiropractors, or even to a behavioural therapist to help you ease muscle pain and habits inimical for your jaw joints.
Your dentist might also recommend you wear occlusal splints or night guards. They’re commonly made from transparent plastic and are made specifically to prevent teeth grinding while helping your jaw muscles relax.
On the other hand, consulting dentist specialists with appropriate training for TMDs is also an excellent way to go. Depending on your initial finding, you can probably be referred to an orofacial specialist, oral surgeon, orthodontist, periodontist, or a prosthodontist.
When left untreated, TMDs can increase the risk of jaw injury, chronic and debilitating headaches, dislocation, and arthritis.