Having issues with your jaw?
Nobody enjoys the painful and uncomfortable experience of having a toothache. What do you do when what you are feeling is more than the typical toothache? What happens if your toothache is also accompanied by jaw pain and a headache? The best thing that you can do is get the right diagnosis, to ensure that your treatment offers you relief. One possible diagnosis would be TMJ/TMD.
What is TMJ?
TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint. This is a hinge joint, and it connects the mandible (your lower jaw) to the temporal bone of the skull. This bone is located right in front of your ear, on both sides of the head. Being a hinge joint, it is flexible and facilitates the movement of the jaw from side to side, as well as up and down. Whenever you are chewing food, speaking or yawning, it is this joint that is moving. The muscles which are attached to this joint, as well as those that surround it control the movement of the jaw and its positioning.
When the muscles or the nerves in this joint are injured in any way, the result could be TMJ syndrome, TMJ dysfunction or TMD. Not only can your internal structures cause this dysfunction, but also the alignment of your teeth as well as stress that you endure that causes grinding or clenching.
What is TMD?
TMD stands for temporomandibular disorders. You may experience these disorders if you have problems with your jaw, the temporomandibular joint and any surrounding facial muscles that are also responsible for the functionality of the jaw. The question is, how could you cause injury to your jaw?
Here are several ways:
- Whiplash from an accident or sudden force, or from a heavy blow as a result of an altercation.
- Strain in the neck as a result of poor posture affecting both the neck and upper back muscles.
- Eating foods which are hard on a consistent basis.
- Stress that causes you to place pressure on the TMJ due to grinding or clenching of the teeth.
- Having your soft cushion or disc between the ball and socket of the TMJ dislocated.
- Chronic issues with the TMJ including Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis.
- In addition to these causes, there are certain people who have increased risk of developing TMD. These include:
- People who have teeth which have been poorly positioned.
- Women between the ages of 18 to 44.
You may identify with these causes in some way though to ensure that you may have TMD, you should check for the following symptoms:
- Any persistent pain around your jaw joint, or facial, neck and shoulder muscles. You may also have pain in or around your ears.
- Restricted ability to move your jaw, making it challenging to open your mouth wide.
- Experiencing lock jaw, where you jaw seems to get stuck when it is either in the open or closed position.
- Strange sounds including popping and clicking when you try to open or close your mouth.
- Finding it a challenge to chew as the teeth in the upper and lower jaw do not fit well together.
- Recurring headaches, or headaches which never seem to go away.
- Swelling on both sides of the face.
- Ringing in the ears, as well as popping sounds. This may make it challenging to hear.
- Dislocation of the jaw which may occur when you open the mouth wide.
Treatment options for TMJ/TMD
TMJ/TMD is not something that you should self-diagnose and self-treat. Once you believe that you may have some of the symptoms, you should get in touch with your dentist. This is because the diagnosis often occurs after a physical examination and a comprehensive evaluation of your medical history.
To reach an adequate diagnosis, the dentist may also for imaging tests, including an MRI or CT scan. These are usually preceded by a panoramic X-ray. The X-ray is done first to ensure the problems are not caused by any other issues. The MRI is for observation of the soft tissue around the joint, whereas the CT scan looks at the details of the bones in the joint.
The first way to treat TMD patients is to have a night guard made. This guard allows your jaw to rest at night in the proper position to alleviate pain that your bite and/or clenching and grinding habits may have caused.
In severe cases, you may require corrective surgery. If your case is not serious, wearing an oral appliance will often result in recovery.
Other medical treatments that may be recommended include:
- Physical therapy in the form of jaw exercises, which should help to strengthen the muscles around the jaw joint.
- Pain medication to help alleviate discomfort.
- Anti-Inflammatory medications.
The excellent news is once TMJ/TMD has been correctly diagnosed and treated, it can be managed. Often, a change in lifestyle habits is also recommended, particularly relating to stress management and overall self-care. These recommendations include improving overall posture, finding ways to relax, wearing the proper protective equipment when taking part in certain exercise or work activities, avoiding chewing gum, staying hydrated, and eating foods that are softer in nature.