That frequent pain and tenderness in your jaw might seem annoying at first, but over time this type of pain can cause serious issues for your mouth. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorder (more often called TMJ) and understanding the treatment options that are available can help improve your quality of life if you suffer from this disorder.

The Common Signs and Symptoms

It might seem obvious, but the single most common symptom of TMJ is pain and tenderness in your jaw. While many of us will experience some form of pain in the jaw at one point or another, it’s important to recognize that those who suffer from TMJ experience these things frequently. Other signs and symptoms can include:

  • Pain on one or both sides in the joint that connects your upper and lower jaw (the temporomandibular joint)
  • Aching pain in the area around your ears or in your face
  • Pain or discomfort while chewing
  • Frequently having your joint lock up so you can’t open or close your mouth
  • Popping or clicking in the joint when chewing or opening your mouth

Not all jaw pain will require significant interventions, and in some cases you might find that you only have infrequent or occasional pain that you can easily treat with over the counter medications. However, when the symptoms interfere with your ability to eat or speak throughout the day, or you find that you are often in pain, it’s time to go see a healthcare professional to discuss your options.

TMJ Causes

The exact cause of TMJ is difficult to define, but the common thread for all who suffer with this condition is a problem with a joint that combines a hinge with a sliding action. The two parts of the bones that are connected to the joint a separated by a small disk that is designed to absorb the shock of the hinge and slide, providing a smooth movement when the jaw opens and closes. You can experience painful TMJ disorders when the disk is out of alignment or eroded, the cartilage gets damaged, or the joint itself is damaged. In most cases, though, the underlying reason for the problem is unclear and therefore it’s difficult to prevent. You might be at a higher risk of developing TMJ if you suffer from arthritis, especially rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, or if you have a jaw injury. You might also develop TMJ after long-term teeth grinding, and women between the ages of 18-44 are at higher risk of the condition.

Diagnosis and Treatment

If you think you might have TMJ, it’s important to get a diagnosis. In most cases a family doctor will send you to a dentist who specializes in jaw disorders and perhaps an ear, nose, and throat specialist for diagnosis. The dentist or specialist might request an MRI to determine if there is damage to the cartilage and to rule out other possible issues. Depending on the cause of your TMJ, you may be able to treat it with stress reduction, meditation, or relaxation techniques, as well as home remedies such as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen, ice packs, and massage. In other cases you will need medical treatments that might include:

  • Dental splints to keep teeth in alignment and prevent grinding
  • Muscle relaxants or alternative therapies such as Botox to relax jaw muscles
  • Physical therapy
  • Dental surgery or jaw surgery

You don’t have to suffer from jaw pain any longer. If you think you might have TMJ, talk to your Meridian family dentist today to get a diagnosis and find out your treatment options.

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