Your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the hinge that attaches your lower jaw to your skull on each side of your face. If you place your finger on the side of your face and open and close your jaw, you’ll feel that hinge and joint at work.
If you experience pain in the muscles on the side of your face or “lockjaw” or difficulty opening or closing your mouth and jaw or notice a clicking sound while chewing, you may be among the 25 to 30% of Canadians who suffer from temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders. Those TMJ disorders may explain neck pain, face pain and even headaches and earaches that you might not otherwise have been able to explain. Your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the hinge that attaches your lower jaw to your skull on each side of your face. If you place your finger on the side of your face and open and close your jaw, you’ll feel that hinge and joint at work.
Causes of pain affecting your TMJ include: trauma or dysfunction affecting the muscles that control your jaw and that connect your neck and shoulder muscles to your face and jaw muscles; damage in the internal portions of the TMJ joint itself, such as a dislocated or displaced disc; and degenerative conditions affecting the joint, such as arthritis.
Risk factors that can increase the risk that you will experience TMJ pain — or increase the degree of pain that you experience — include: injuries to your jaw, face, neck and head; experiencing stress or anxiety; misaligned teeth that affect how your upper and lower jaws meet; and if you suffer from sleep or waking bruxism, a condition in which you clench your jaw and grind your teeth whether you’re asleep or awake.
There are several things that you can do yourself to ease the discomfort associated with TMJ pain. Self-help remedies, including: eating softer foods and avoiding hard and hard-to-chew foods; applying a cold compress to your jaw or the side of your face; avoiding fully opening your jaw; practicing stress-reduction and relaxation exercises; gently stretching your jaw; and performing or receiving soft tissue massage.
A TMJ dentist near you may take x-rays and examine your face and jaw to identify teeth and jaw-related issues that may be contributing to your discomfort. Pain associated with TMJ disorder can often be eased or even eliminated by wearing a custom-fit nightguard provided by your dentist in Okotoks to properly position and protect your teeth. If self-help remedies and a mouth guard don’t help, your dentist may recommend TENS therapy, alterations to the surfaces of your teeth to change how they meet or even surgical alternatives.
TMJ disorders and their symptoms can be treated effectively. There’s no need to tolerate the pain and limitations associated with TMJ disorders; tolerating or ignoring those symptoms can cause more serious problems, including:
- The issues causing your TMJ symptoms may also be affecting other unexplained and debilitating issues such as headaches, migraines, dizziness and vertigo, numbness in your fingers and even neck and back pain
- What should be easier, more natural or more enjoyable than eating, smiling and talking? Untreated TMJ symptoms and disorders can interfere with all those activities and significantly undermine your enjoyment of life — personally, socially and professionally.
- Many of the symptoms of TMJ disorders overlap with symptoms of other even more troubling conditions, including oral cancer. You should immediately arrange an appointment with a dentist near you to investigate your symptoms to rule out life-threatening issues and arrange TMJ treatment near you
Don’t settle for a life affected by jaw pain. Next time you see your dentist, tell them about any TMJ symptoms you’re experiencing to see if your dentist can help or help you to get the help you need from another medical professional.