Disorders of the TMJ, or temporomandibular joints, affect approximately 12 percent of the US population at any one time. These joints, which act as hinges connecting the skull and jawbone, as well as its connecting muscles, can become inflamed and painful due to a number of factors including arthritis, injury or genetic predisposition. If you suspect you might be at risk for a TMJ disorder, here are some signs and symptoms to look out for before consulting a TMJ dentist.
One of the most obvious and most common signs of TMJ disorder will be pain in or around the joint and its associated muscles, which can also manifest itself as headaches or migraines. This pain may come when eating or speaking, but may also be felt at rest, and could vary in intensity. The pain may also come and go, with some patients experiencing pain flare ups over days, weeks or months. TMJ pain flare ups can vary greatly depending on both the individual and the severity of the condition.
Another common symptom is popping, clicking or crepitus (a crunching, grinding sensation) when moving their jaw. These sounds can be generated depending on the individual features of the joint.
Locking or catching
Jaw locking and catching can also be experienced if the joint is not moving smoothly. This can range from a minor, momentary catch to a situation where the joint is continuously locked. Patients who experience more frequent or severe locking episodes are urged to consult with a TMJ dentist to conduct a full examination.
Related to the above, another possible symptom of TMJ disorder is not feeling any pain but still displaying an inability to open the jaw, which can be attributed to muscle strain. It can also be the result of a displacement of the articular disc, a main component of the joint.
In many cases, the above signs and symptoms of TMJ disorder may clear up on their own. Over the counter medications like anti-inflammatories are a good first step.
Other lifestyle and home remedies include building self-awareness around tension-related habits in the jaw – clenching and teeth grinding are two examples. Eating soft foods cut into small pieces and avoiding sticky or chewy foods can also help to relieve symptoms. The dentist or doctor may also recommend exercises to strengthen and massage the muscles around the jaw. For acute pain, applying heat or ice may provide relief. Even taking steps to improve posture, such as not resting your chin on your hand can help to reduce symptoms.
Alternative approaches like acupuncture, relaxation techniques and biofeedback can also be used to complement traditional medicinal treatment.
However, if after trying the above methods the symptoms persist or worsen, then it is advised that you get in touch with a TMJ dentist to look at the next steps. They will help to a recommend one or a variety of treatment options, which may include oral splints or mouth guards, prescription medications and physical therapy. In most cases, relief can be found through a combination of methods. Surgery is an option in severe cases, but it is typically a last resort after all other options are explored.