Have you ever had pain in your jaw, face, or neck? Maybe jaw muscle stiffness, or limited movement? It’s possible that you’re experiencing symptoms of a TMJ disorder, also known as a temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder. This occasionally experienced pain is baffling researchers, as they try to understand the causes, symptoms, and treatment of this disorder that is experienced by an estimated 10 million Americans.
What is a TMJ Disorder?
Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders, also known as TMJ disorders, are not something you hear about every day. Common symptoms categorized by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) list a TMJ disorder involving pain in the muscles that control jaw movement, derangement of the jaw joint, or arthritic joint disorders. Some patients experience just one or all of these symptoms. The disorder is more likely to affect women than men.
There isn’t always a clear indicator as to why patients start experiencing symptoms of a TMJ disorder. It’s not uncommon for the discomfort to start randomly and then subside over time. In other cases, trauma to the jaw itself or to the joint specifically can play a leading role in developing a problem.
What Are the Symptoms of a TMJ Disorder?
Symptoms listed by the NIDCR vary from patient to patient, but some common symptoms of TMJ disorders include:
- Pain in the face, jaw, or neck
- Jaw muscle stiffness
- Limited jaw movement
- Painful clicking, popping or grating in the jaw joint
- A change in the way upper and lower teeth fit together
Although these symptoms may appear without an obvious cause, it is possible for the disorder to be related to another health problem. Some cases of TMJ disorder have been reported alongside chronic fatigue syndrome, sleep disturbances, or fibromyalgia. Without a clear understanding of how or why jaw disorders start, it is difficult to pinpoint one responsible cause.
Ways to Treat Your TMJ Disorder
For most patients, the symptoms associated with a TMJ disorder will go away on their own. Only in extreme cases of chronic pain do we suggest talking with your physician about exploring aggressive, irreversible treatments that would alter the muscles, tissues, or joint of the jaw. Instead, we encourage you to explore other self-care options that can help with pain management.
- Avoid Hard Foods. Give your jaw a break from aggressive chewing motions by eating softer foods.
- Use An Ice Pack. As simple as it sounds, applying a cool ice pack to the painful joint muscle will begin to numb the region, allowing for a welcome relief.
- Limit Your Jaw Movement. Whether you’re an avid gum chewer, opera singer, auctioneer, or wide yawner, it is best to try to limit your extreme jaw movements to avoid further irritation and discomfort of the jaw joint.
- Relax & Stretch. Increased stress can add additional strain to an already tight jaw muscle. Try to find ways to relax and unwind. If need be, consult your physician or physical therapist to find exercises and stretches that will help loosen the jaw muscles.
If these techniques are not helping relieve the pain, talk to your dentist about other symptom relief options, such as pain medications or the use of a stabilization splint. It is best to always consult your dentist about any jaw discomfort you’re experiencing and avoid any alteration of the bite until you have a thorough diagnosis.
If you or a loved one is experiencing these symptoms of TMJ disorder pain, give the Creason, Weber & Mountford office a call at (616) 842-0822. We always welcome new patients, and you can even get in touch with us online!