For most of my patients, I’m more often concerned about the health of the bones of their body. However, a few of my patients will come to me complaining that their jaw, on one or the other side, is aching, stiff and makes a crackling, or popping noise whenever they open or close their mouth.
As I tell my patients, these are the hallmark symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMJ. I’d like to talk to you about what TMJ is, how you can improve the health of your jaw bones, and relieve TMJ symptoms.
What You Can Do About TMJ
Your temporomandibular joint is one of the busiest joints of your body. All day long you are frequently moving your jaw muscles/bones by talking, chewing, biting, and yawning. TMJ disorder is really a cluster of muscular and/or bone issues in and around the jaw. It usually is caused by either an acute injury to that area of the face, or even chronic behaviors that affect the face, teeth or neck area on the side of the face where the TMJ is located. These can include:
- Bruxism (teeth grinding): The chronic back and forth grinding motion of teeth against teeth can wear down the cartilaginous lining of the temporomandibular joint. People often do not know they are grinding their teeth in their sleep unless someone sees them doing it. It most often is caused by anxiety and/or stress. Signs of bruxism are wear on the back teeth that is visible to your dentist.
- Nail biting, gum chewing: The frequent biting and chewing motions can wear down the cartilage in the joint area.
- Teeth malalignment: Teeth may not “bite” together correctly. Dental fillings can change your bite if they are not tamped down properly after filling. Chewing on one side of your mouth can lead to TMJ on that side from overuse of muscles.
- Occupation: Holding a pencil in your mouth constantly, holding a phone cradled on your shoulder, can create tension in the mouth muscles that can lead to TMJ.
- Ear/Sinus infection: When your facial sinuses are clogged up, they push on nerves in the jaw area causing TMJ.
- Lack of sleep: Not enough sleep can cause a lot of tension in muscles, particularly in the jaw, and throughout the body. This tension can cause the muscles to become sore.
Symptoms Of TMJ
There are as many different symptoms of TMJ as there are causes. Basically, however, there are several “classic” TMJ symptoms that will tell you that you likely have the disorder:
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Muscle spasm
- Stress management
- Clicking, popping, crackling sounds in the joint while moving the jaw
- Stiffness, or locking sensation, opening or closing the jaw
Treatment For TMJ
Usually, TMJ issues are found on yearly dental examinations. Or, a patient’s symptoms may bring them into their doctor’s offices and a physical exam can disclose the problem. Sometimes, a special set of dental x-rays, called Panorex (panoramic views), may be ordered. Once diagnosed, the following treatments are helpful in relieving TMJ issues:
- Rest the jaw – stop chewing on one side, try less talking for a while.
- Eat soft foods – Cut down on the amount of biting on harder foods on the TMJ side.
- Medications – a short course of anti-inflammatories as well. See your doctor for any prescriptions that may be written and/or supplied as well.
- Manage stress – get a massage of the head and neck to help the muscles of the jaws to relax. This can help with pain and stiffness.
- Anti-inflammatory medications – a short course of over-the-counter anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen can quiet the soreness in the jaw. Natural anti-inflammatories include bromelain and quercetin,
- Mouth guards – used to stop teeth grinding so the jaw can heal.
TMJ/jaw pain can be very uncomfortable to live with. Not everyone gets the same, or all of, the symptoms of TMJ. If you have even a few of the above symptoms, please see your dentist, or your doctor who can assess your jaw. Following the recommendations above can help relieve your jaw pain/TMJ so you can become more comfortable and restore your jaw to better health.
Mark Bromson, M.D.
An Aching Jaw Leads to a World of Medical Uncertainty, http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/tmj-disorders/overview.html
TMJ Symptoms and Causes, www.medicinenet.com/temporomandibular…/article.htm