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Pain in the jaw and face: what you need to know about TMJ disorders

May 29, 2024 | by Freya Parker

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Starting off:

Sometimes jaw and face pain is so bad that it makes it impossible to eat, speak, or even sleep well. TMJ disorders, which affect millions of people around the world, are a regular cause of this kind of pain. To effectively manage and get relief from this often long-lasting condition, it is important to understand TMJ disorders, including their causes, symptoms, and treatment choices.

What is TMJ?

The jawbone and head are joined together at the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which is a hinge joint. It is very important for doing important things like chewing, talking, and making facial movements. TMJ disorders are a group of illnesses that affect the TMJ and the muscles around it. These conditions can make the jaw joint and the areas around it hurt and not work right.

Why TMJ disorders happen:

TMJ problems can be caused by a number of things, such as

Trauma: 

If you get hit or swear at your face or mouth, the TMJ and other structures around it can get hurt and stop working properly.

Bruxism: 

Clenching or grinding your teeth, which can happen when you’re stressed or anxious, can put too much pressure on your TMJ, which can cause pain symptoms and inflammation.

Misaligned teeth or jaws, also known as malocclusion, can put stress on the TMJ and cause pain and problems over time.

Arthritis: 

Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are two types of arthritis that can affect the TMJ and cause pain, swelling, and reduced movement.

Muscle Tension: 

TMJ symptoms can get worse if you have chronic muscle tension in your jaw and face. This can be caused by stress or bad posture.

Signs of TMJ disorders:

TMJ problems can have a wide range of symptoms, but these are some of the most common ones:

Jaw pain is pain that doesn’t go away or comes and goes in the jaw joint. It usually gets worse when you chew or move your mouth.

Face pain is when your face hurts or feels sore, especially around your ears, temples, or cheeks.

Problems Chewing: Having trouble or feeling pain while chewing, along with a clicking, popping, or grinding sound in the mouth.

Lockjaw is when the jaw joint locks up for a short time or for a long time, making it hard to open or close the mouth all the way.

Headaches: Headaches that come and go, often looking like tension headaches, caused by tense muscles or problems with the jaw joint.

How to Diagnose and Treat:

A dentist or other health care provider will usually do a full exam to diagnose TMJ problems. This might include a physical check, a review of the patient’s medical history, and imaging tests like X-rays or MRI scans to look at the structure and function of the TMJ.

The goal of treatment for TMJ disorders is to ease pain, improve function, and get to the root reasons of the problem. Some common types of treatment are:

Pain Management: 

Pain killers, muscle relaxants, and anti-inflammatory drugs, both over-the-counter and prescription, can help ease the pain and discomfort that come with TMJ disorders.

Lifestyle changes: 

Staying away from chewy or hard foods, learning how to relax, and using good posture can all help lower TMJ symptoms and stop flare-ups.

Dental Treatments: 

Orthodontic surgery, bite adjustments, or the use of oral appliances like splints or mouthguards can help relieve pain and dysfunction caused by TMJ.

Physical therapy: 

Exercises and methods that make the jaw more mobile, strengthen the muscles around it, and ease muscle tension can help people with TMJ disorders.

Surgery: 

If conservative treatments don’t help with severe cases, surgery like arthroscopy or open joint surgery may be explored to fix or replace damaged TMJ structures.

How to Avoid TMJ Disorders:

Even though you can’t change some things that put you at risk for TMJ disorders, like genetics or arthritis, you can take a number of steps to lower your risk of getting TMJ-related pain and dysfunction:

Good oral hygiene: 

Taking care of your teeth and gums properly and seeing a dentist right away for problems can help you avoid getting infections and lower your risk of TMJ disorders.

Avoid Grinding Your Teeth: 

If you bite or grind your teeth, especially at night or while you sleep, a nightguard or mouthguard can protect your teeth and take pressure off of your TMJ.

Take care of your stress: Mindfulness, breathing exercises, or therapy are all ways to deal with stress that can help loosen up jaw muscles and stop TMJ pain.

Keep your back straight. Bad posture, especially when you’re sitting or working at a computer, can lead to TMJ disorders and muscle stress. Keeping good posture can help the muscles in your jaw and neck feel less stressed.

In conclusion:

TMJ disorders can cause pain in the jaw and face, which can have a big effect on quality of life. But with the right knowledge, evaluation, and treatment, you can feel better. People with TMJ disorders can improve their oral health and general health by addressing the root causes, managing their symptoms, and taking preventative steps. If you have constant jaw or face pain, you should see a doctor right away so they can properly diagnose and treat the problem.

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