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TMJ disorder can cause pain in the jaw joint and extend into other areas of the head and neck region.
Everyone experiences occasional headaches, shoulder pain, or sore neck. Most of the time we can dismiss the cause as nothing more than stress or our busy lives, but, when pain becomes a daily occurrence or is accompanied by other symptoms, there could be something more going on.
If you are suffering from undiagnosed, chronic pain, TMJ may be the reason. But what is TMJ, and why does it cause pain?
How does your TMJ work? TMJ is an abbreviated term for the temporomandibular joint also known as your jaw joint. Other abbreviations; TMD for Temporomandibular Disorder and TMJD for Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, are also accepted and used interchangeably to refer to the pain, disorder or dysfunction of this joint and other affected areas surrounding it.
Like all of the wonderfully complex parts of our bodies, the temporomandibular joint is designed for smooth, continuous and pain-free operation. These two essential joints work in unison to allow you to:
bite speak chew sing yawn laugh talk
In fact, for your jaw to do everything you need it to, it must be able to open close, move forward and back and from side to side.
The bones of your joints do not work alone. To move, each of your ball and socket jaw joints are cushioned by a disc and surrounded by the muscles, ligaments and nerves that make them work.
What causes jaw problems?
While TMJ causes are not always clear, they are often be related to specific events or life changes, including:
direct injury to the temporomandibular joint ongoing stress resulting in bruxism and clenching of the jaw shifting or missing teeth a misaligned jaw or underdeveloped jaw due to genetics or childhood breathing problems arthritis sleep disorders, especially sleep disordered breathing Where does the pain come from? Since the TM joint consists of so many interdependent parts, if even one piece is out of commission, stressed or damaged in some way, the rest of the connecting parts are affected. This includes the part of our nervous system that is responsible for providing input to the brain for as much as 40 percent of the human head and face.
The nerve, specifically called the trigeminal nerve is of great interest to the neuromuscular dentist evaluating and treating TMJ disorders. As the name implies, there are three branches to this nerve, and they are connected with many of the functions of the TM joint, including:
Routine chewing functions of the upper and lower jaw Swallowing Breathing Talking Kissing Eyes Ears Sinuses Teeth Even though TMJ pain directly communicates through the trigeminal nerve structures, it may also result in referred pain to certain locations in the head and neck. Almost 100% of all headaches and migraines, as well as sinus pain are mediated primarily by the trigeminal nerve. Symptoms of referred pain may include the following symptoms:
Frequent morning headaches or migraines Grinding, clicking or popping noise in the TM joints Dizziness Neck, shoulder or back pain Tinnitus Learn more about TMJ DentistTMJ is a complex disorder. Effective treatment depends on an accurate diagnosis.
If you would like to find out if TMJ is at the root of your chronic pain, take our TMJ questionnaire or, better yet, come in for a consultation.
HELP YOURSELF FIRST - REMEMBER LESS IS BEST!
Often jaw problems resolve on their own in several weeks to months. If you have recently experienced TMJ pain and/or dysfunction, you may find relief with some or all of the following therapies.
Moist Heat. Moist heat from a heat pack or a hot water bottle wrapped in a warm, moist towel can improve function and reduce pain.
Be careful to avoid burning yourself when using heat.
Ice. Ice packs can decrease inflammation and also numb pain and promote healing. Do not place an ice pack directly on your skin. Keep the pack wrapped in a clean cloth while you are using it. Do not use an ice pack for more than 10 - 15 minutes. Soft Diet. Soft or blended foods allow the jaw to rest temporarily. Remember to avoid hard, crunchy, and chewy foods. Do not stretch your mouth to accommodate such foods as corn on the cob, apples, or whole fruits. Over the-Counter Analgesics. For many people with TMJ Disorders, short-term use of over-the-counter pain medicines or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen, may provide temporary relief from jaw discomfort. When necessary, your dentist or doctor can prescribe stronger pain or anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxants, or antidepressants to help ease symptoms.
Jaw Exercises. Slow, gentle jaw exercises may help increase jaw mobility and healing. Your health care provider or a physical therapist can evaluate your condition and suggest appropriate exercises based on your individual needs. A recent study found therapeutic jaw exercises bring earlier recovery of jaw function compared to splints! Click here to read the specific jaw exercises used in this study.
Relaxation Techniques. Relaxation and guided imagery can be helpful in dealing with the pain that accompanies TMJ dysfunction. Deep, slow breathing enhances relaxation and modulates pain sensations. Some have found yoga, massage, and meditation helpful in reducing stress and aiding relaxation. Side Sleeping. Sleep on your side using pillow support between shoulder and neck. Relax Facial Muscles. Make a concerted effort to relax your lips, and keep teeth apart. Yawning. Use your fist to support your chin as you yawn to prevent damage to the joint and prevent your jaw from locking open. In addition, avoid:
Jaw clenching. Gum chewing.
Cradling the telephone, which may irritate jaw and neck muscles. Be sure to discuss your jaw limitations with your doctor prior to surgery or a long dental appointment so he/she uses extreme caution. Anesthesia, often used during dental procedures, can affect mouth opening and damage the joint. If possible, avoid long dental appointments requiring an open mouth for more than 30 minutes. For more information about this topic, please review our Dental Hygiene Brochure (.pdf).
Remember, if your TMJ problems get worse with time, you should seek professional advice. However, first and foremost, educate yourself. Informed patients are better able to talk with health care providers, ask questions, and make knowledgeable decisions. By seeking out the information on this website, you are on the road to being an informed patient and better able to help yourself.
We suggest you read through and print out our list of questions (.pdf) to ask your doctor prior to consenting to any treatment.