Chewing gum used to be a favorite pastime, but now the thought of opening your jaw to yawn, let alone chew, is an overwhelming thought due to Temporomandibular joint syndrome or TMJ. TMJ is pain in the jaw caused by a variety of different reasons; teeth grinding and clenching being the most common. Regular dental check-ups can help prevent this disorder as dentists are often the first to diagnose the signs and symptoms.
Problems with this jaw joint can cause head and neck pain, facial pain, ear pain, headaches, a jaw that is locked in position or difficult to open, problems biting, and jaw clicking or popping sounds.
The jawbone itself, controlled by the TMJ, has two movements: opening and closing of the mouth and opening the mouth wider. The coordination of this action allows you to talk, chew, and yawn, but when TMJ strikes any of these movements can cause intense pain.
Happily, there are ways to lessen the pain, and, in many cases, eliminate it.
Placing a splint in the mouth is often enough to solve the problem. A splint is a small plastic appliance that slides in the mouth to separate the upper and lower teeth. This prevents grinding and clenching of the teeth giving the jaw a break. By allowing the jaw to rest from constant use, a possible displaced disc in the jaw may have time to heal. This will lessen or alleviate the pain.
TMJ can also be caused by arthritis brought on by normal aging or trauma. Rheumatoid arthritis is often blamed for TMJ in children.
TMJ syndrome will often cause ear pain. Many a patient has gone to the doctor in search of a cure for an ear infection, when, in fact, the ear is perfectly fine. TMJ can also cause swelling in the mouth, migraines, neck and shoulder pain and, in extreme cases, the jaw may get stuck either open or closed. Headaches and a feeling of dizziness are not uncommon often leading to nausea and vomiting.
If your jaw becomes locked either open or shut, you must go to the emergency room for treatment.
It is interesting to note more woman than men suffer from TMJ. The good news is only one percent of all cases lead to a need for surgery. Most cases can be solved with splints or bite plates created in the dentist's office. Minor cases can be treated at home with the use of pain relieving medicines such as Advil or Tylenol, warm compresses applied to the jaw and by eating a diet of soft food. The dentist can also show you gentle stretching and relaxing exercises for the jaw.
It is important that patients avoid chewing gum or biting on objects, such as pens or fingernail if they suffer from TMJ. Avoid eating hard or chewy food. When you yawn, support your lower jaw with your hand.
Most cases of TMJ are temporary and can be avoided with stress relieving techniques and regular visits to your dentist.