What is temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder?
TMJ disorder are a group of conditions that cause pain in the jaw joint and/or the surrounding muscles. Some people have the pain come and go in a manageable way. Others experience lifelong effects including arthritis, inflammation, or even dislocation of the jaw.
What causes TMJ disorder?
Sometimes, trauma (like facial injuries or fractures) plays a role in the development of TMJ. Most often, however, TMJ seems to just appear without an obvious cause. Scientists are still trying to determine the exact causes of TMJ disorder.
What are the symptoms of TMJ disorder?
Many symptoms have been linked to TMJ, with the most common one pain when opening the mouth or chewing. Other symptoms include:
• a radiating or pulsing pain in the face or jaw
• jaw muscle stiffness
• a change in the way your teeth fit together
• a locking of the jaw (where you can't open or close your mouth)
• painful clicking or popping in the jaw
My jaw is clicking when I open my mouth. Do I have TMJ disorder?
No, not necessarily. Many people have some sort of jaw noise. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research: "There is no scientific proof that sounds—such as clicking—in the jaw joint lead to serious problems. In fact, jaw sounds are common in the general population. Jaw noises alone, without pain or limited jaw movement, do not indicate a TMJ disorder and do not warrant treatment."* If you are seriously concerned, talk to your health care provider.
What can I do to help with my TMJ disorder?
Many doctors do not recommend surgery for TMJ as that might cause irreversible damage to the facial bones, muscles, and cartilage. Instead, they recommend more conservative treatments.
• Eat Soft Foods: Hard foods or foods that require a lot of chewing can irritate the jaw.
• Pain Management: Short-term use of pain medicines or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs might help with jaw discomfort. Your physician might need to prescribe you stronger medications if the pain becomes unbearable.
• Don't Open Wide: Avoid extreme jaw movements (really wide yawns, loud singing, or excessive gum chewing) as these might cause more jaw pain.
• Jaw Stretches: Your doctor might be able to show you some jaw stretches that can help relieve pain or discomfort.
* National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. "TMJ Disorders." TMJ Disorders. National Institutes of Health. <http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/oralhealth/Topics/TMJ/TMJDisorders.htm#whatDisorders>.