The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, is the hinge that connects your jaw to your skull in front of each ear. This joint allows you to move your jaw up and down and side to side. This is part of the anatomy of your head that makes it possible to talk, yawn and chew.
Problems with your jaw and the muscles in your face that control it are known as temporomandibular disorders (TMD).
The TMJ is both a critical part of functioning but it can also be a source of pain.
According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of TMJ disorders can include:
- Aching around your ear
- Difficulty chewing
- Facial pain
- Locking of the joint
- Pain in your jaw
Other symptoms include:
- Pain in the TMJ joint specifically
- Bruxing, (teeth grinding), and joint popping
- Difficulty opening the mouth without pain
- Joint popping or clicking
The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, (NIDCR), recommends a conservative approach to TMJ pain. Surgery should be a last resort. Treatments that do not cause permanent changes in the structure or position of the jaw or teeth have proven to be effective and reliable.
Steps to Relieve TMJ Pain You Can do for Yourself
- Eat soft foods.
- Apply ice packs.
- Avoid extreme jaw movements.
- Practice reducing stress and relaxing techniques.
- Gentle jaw stretching.
For some people with TMJ disorders, short-term use of over-the-counter pain medicines such as ibuprofen, may provide temporary relief.
Your dentist may recommend a stabilization jaw splint (oral appliance), or orthotic appliance that fits over the upper or lower teeth. A well adjusted splint can often relax tense muscles, relieve muscle tension headaches and help protect the jaw joints. Often the splint appliance is adjusted to the optimum bite over a period of weeks or months and often it is only worn at night when bruxing, (tooth grinding) often occurs.
If you suffer from TMJ pain or muscle tension headaches talk with your dentist. A well adjusted appliance you wear at night may help.
Peter J. Samuels, DDS is a local, Gettysburg dentist and a clinical instructor at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry.