The temporomandibular joint located in your head acts as a hinge connecting the temporal bones in your skull to your jaw, just in front of each ear. Without this hinge you wouldn’t be able to walk, talk, chew, yawn, or use your mouth to any capacity. This hinge has a big job and gets used constantly on a daily basis. Unfortunately, there are many people who suffer from issues with this joint which are often called temporomandibular disorders or more commonly known as TMJ. It can become incredibly painful and bothersome, sometimes even requiring surgery to readjust the join and jaw to make it function properly. The first step is to determine whether the pain you’re experiencing is TMJ related.
What Causes TMJ?
There is no one root cause of this joint disorder, which is what makes it particularly frustrating for many people to discover and treat properly with the help of a medical professional. Some people may experience TMJ pain after a trauma like an accident or injuries like a heavy blow to the head or whiplash. In other cases, people may have orthodontic issues that were never addressed like an open bite that has caused the jaw to misalign. Some people may grind or clench their teeth out of habit or stress which can damage the soft cushion or disc between the ball and socket in the jaw joint. After some time, people can also develop arthritis of the jaw, which can cause severe pain and discomfort.
The pain associated with temporomandibular joint disorder can be excruciating, but it comes with other uncomfortable symptoms as well. If you’re experiencing pain or tenderness in your face and jaw joint area around your ear when you talk or move your mouth, it may be TMJ related. Your jaw may sometimes lock up or get stuck in a position, and you may hear a very signature click or popping sound while chewing – which may not be painful at all. Another sign of TMJ is swelling on the side of the face which can be noticed most often in the mornings, especially for people who clench or grind their teeth at night while sleeping. Because of the pressure some of these symptoms can put on teeth, changes in the tooth structure may occur where some teeth are getting more worn down than others. Sometimes people experience toothaches, headaches, neck aches, dizziness, earaches, as well as tinnitus or ringing in the ears when suffering from TMJ symptoms.
If you feel you may be suffering from TMJ, make sure you speak with your dentist as soon as possible to employ some methods that can mitigate pain to make your life a little easier.
This may seem too simple to be effective, but relaxing your jaw is very effective in mitigating TMJ pain. There are a series of relaxation techniques you can find online, and even some video tutorials that can teach you how to give your jaw joints a break, especially when you are under pressure or stress. Some of these techniques involve massaging your jaw muscles to help increase blood flow and reduce the tightness that may occur in your muscles. Using a circular motion right on the joint next to your ears several times a day and right before bed can help prevent grinding and clenching that may occur at night.
When you’re not actively feeling TMJ pain, it’s a good idea to work on strengthening that area. There are some exercises you can you do to build some power in your jaw and put less stress on your joints. Make sure you speak with your dentist or doctor before you try any of these exercises to make sure you don’t cause any damage to your specific condition.
Try a resisted opening exercise where you put one thumb under your chin and gently push downward against it. As you push your thumb down, open your mouth slowly, keeping it open for a few seconds before you close it again.
A resisted closing exercise consists of keeping your thumb under your chin and placing your index finger from the same hand on the ridge between your chin and lower lip. Push them gently as you close your mouth and release.
When you’re feeling a lot of tension in your jaw and experiencing pain, try to gently stretch the joint area to help alleviate it. Some people with TMJ do this movement instinctively to help reduce the sensation of tugging or pulling. One good exercise to try is putting your tongue on the roof of your mouth and slowly opening your mouth as much as you can before it becomes too painful. Do not continue to stretch if you feel pain!
Another move to try starts with your mouth closed and jaw relaxed. Keep your teeth slightly apart and open your mouth slowly as wide as you can while looking up. Hold your mouth open for a few seconds before slowly closing it. Once closed, move your jaw to the left while looking to your right and make sure you’re not turning your neck. Hold it for several seconds and then do the same to the opposite side.
Make sure you speak with your dentist about TMJ pain. They can help fit you with the right kind of night guard that can alleviate any grinding or clenching you do in your sleep. This is particularly effective for people who experience TMJ because of bite issues like an open bite. People who thrust their tongue when they swallow and sleep can curb the damage done to their teeth and jaws with a custom-made night guard that is fitted perfectly and much more effective than the kind you will find in drugstores that require you to boil and mold them to your teeth.
TMJ is a common condition that’s painful and sometimes debilitating. If you feel like TMJ is impacting your life in a severe way that can’t be fixed with these methods, speak your dentist and seek out a specialist to learn about more extensive treatments that are available to help treat TMJ like jaw surgery or implants that help the jaw joint work properly.