TMJ is the acronym for the temporomandibular joint, which is simply your jaw joint. It is the joint that connects your jaw to your skull. The jaw joint is responsible for the hinging motion that opens and closes your mouth. When you experience pain or discomfort in this area, your dentist will call it a TMD or temporomandibular joint disorder.
It can be hard to determine the exact causes of TMJ because it can be a combination of many factors. Since the jaw repeatedly moves throughout the day, overuse of the jaw joint can cause TMJ. Although, there are genetic causes that can create pain or discomfort. Age and injury can also play a part in someone developing TMJ. In addition, a bad bite can cause TMJ to develop over time.
With mild cases of TMJ, you can experience a popping or clicking sound in your jaw. This may not cause any pain or discomfort. In fact, it may be a symptom that you barely notice. If that is the case, then your TMJ won’t need treatment. However, TMJ can progress, causing pain and discomfort.
Mild to moderate cases of TMJ can cause pain in the joints or the muscles of the jaw. Numerous muscles cover your face, so when your jaw muscles hurt, it can cause pain throughout your face. This can exhibit as pain to the touch or even an earache. If you experience pain in your jaw, it can make eating or speaking difficult. Additionally, you may develop headaches as a result of TMJ.
Although it is not as common, severe cases of TMJ can cause the joint to lock or “freeze.” This means that it can be difficult or impossible to open or close your mouth. If you can, it can cause severe pain. Advanced cases of TMJ need medical treatment. Otherwise, you won’t experience any relief, and it can worsen.
If your TMJ doesn’t cause any problems, you may not need treatment. However, there are treatment options for when it begins to bother you.
For TMJ that results from overuse, you can try resting your jaw. The muscles in your jaw are like any other muscle group in your body. Much like going to the gym—if you overtrain your muscles, they are going to hurt. The remedy is to give the muscles a break. With your jaw, this will look like eating soft foods and minimizing how much you speak. Eventually, your symptoms should fade.
You can always try icing your jaw to help reduce your pain. Ice can minimize pain and swelling, which irritates your jaw joint and muscles. For the best results, you can combine icing with pain medication. Over-the-counter painkillers, such as Tylenol or Advil, can reduce your pain and discomfort.
Another possible treatment is physical therapy or facial massage. Sometimes, the cause of TMJ is due to a muscle imbalance. Therefore, physical therapy will retrain the muscles or strengthen them.
Finally, your dentist can make you a custom mouthguard to cushion your jaw. This will correctly align your jaw as you sleep.