The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the name of the joint located on either side of your head, just in front of your ears. These joints connect your jawbone to your skull. The TMJ, which can rotate and move forward, backward and side to side, is considered one of the most complex joints in the body. This joint, in combination with other muscles and ligaments, lets you chew, swallow, speak and yawn. When you have a problem with the muscle, bone or other tissue in the area in and around the TMJ, you may have a TMD.
Symptoms of TMDs
Signs or symptoms of TMDs include pain in or around the ear, the jaw joint, or the muscles of the face or temples. Other symptoms are problems opening or closing your mouth, and a clicking or grinding noise when you chew, yawn or open your mouth. TMDs may be linked with neck pain and headaches. If you have any of these symptoms, tell your dentist and your doctor.
Cause and Effect
In most cases, TMDs are caused by a combination of factors like jaw injuries and joint disease, such as arthritis. It is believed that bruxism (tooth clenching or grinding) and head or neck muscle tension may make TMD symptoms worse. Stress is also a possible factor. Other things that may lead to TMDs are partial or full dentures that are not the right fit and certain habits such as fingernail biting and pen or pencil biting.
Most patients with TMDs get better by themselves without any treatment. To help ease sore jaw muscles, place a cold or warm compress to your jaw and gently massage your jaw muscles. Eat a soft diet, cut food into small pieces and avoid hard, chewy or sticky foods. Try not to open your mouth too wide, even when you yawn. And most importantly, relax your jaw muscles.
When you are relaxed, your teeth should be slightly apart and your tongue should rest on the floor of your mouth with your lips barely touching or slightly apart. There should be a slight space between your upper and lower teeth except during chewing, speaking or swallowing.
Nondrug therapies for TMJ disorder include:
- Oral splints or mouth guards. Often, people with jaw pain will benefit from wearing a soft or firm device inserted over their teeth, but the reasons why these devices are beneficial are not well-understood.
- Physical therapy. Treatments might include acupuncture, ultrasound, moist heat and ice, along with exercises to stretch and strengthen jaw muscles.
- Counseling. Education and counseling can help you understand the factors and behaviors that may aggravate your pain, so you can avoid them. Examples include teeth clenching or grinding, leaning on your chin, or biting fingernails.