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The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is also known as your jaw bone socket. Your TM joints are where your upper jaw and lower jaw meet just in front of the ears. The joints are moving parts that allow the lower jaw to move. This lets you open and close your mouth for talking, biting and chewing. The joints are a complex, made of muscles and jawbones. Each part plays a role in keeping your TMJs working smoothly. When the muscles are relaxed and balanced and both jaw joints open and close comfortably, you are able to talk, chew or yawn with no pain. Because your muscles and joints work together, a problem with either one can lead to uncomfortable results such as stiffness, headaches, pain, bite problems, clicking sounds or lock jaw.
Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD) may occur when the jaw twists during opening, closing or side-motion movements. These movements affect the jaw joint and the muscles that control chewing.
TMD describes a variety of conditions that affect jaw muscles, temporomandibular joints, and nerves. TMD can be associated with chronic facial pain. Symptoms may occur on one or both sides of the face, head or jaw, or develop after an injury. TMD affects more than twice as many women than men and is the most common non-dental related chronic orofacial pain.
Normal function for this muscle group includes chewing, swallowing, speech and communication. Most experts suggest that certain tasks, either mental or physical, cause or aggravate TMD, such as strenuous physical tasks or stressful situations. Most discomfort is caused from overuse of the muscles, specifically clenching or grinding teeth (bruxism).
These excessive habits tire the jaw muscles and lead to discomfort, such as headaches or neck pain. Additionally, abnormal function can lead to worn or sensitive teeth, traumatized soft tissues, muscle soreness, jaw discomfort when eating, and temporal (side) headaches.
The majority of cases can be treated by resting the joint, taking a pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (Motrin, Alleve, etc...),and practicing stress management and relaxation techniques.
It's important to break bad habits to ease the symptoms. Most treatment for TMD is simple, often can be done at home, and does not need surgery. For example, control clenching or grinding during the day by sticking your tongue between your teeth. If you still experience pain, you may be grinding or clenching your teeth at night. So see your dentist for a nighttime mouthguard.
Most people will experience relief with minor treatment. More severe cases may be treated with physical therapy, ice and hot packs, posture training and orthopedic appliance therapy (splint). Eating soft foods and avoiding chewing gum also help relax the muscles.
The various options available are:
You may need a combination of treatments, depending on the severity of your case as decided by your dentist. From biting and talking to chewing and yawning, your TM joints always come into play. So when something goes wrong with your jaw joints, it can cause you much discomfort.
The condition is often cyclical and may recur during times of stress, good or bad. As the patient, you should be active in your treatment, by being aware of the causes of your jaw problems after seeing a dentist for a diagnosis regime.
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