What is TMJ?
It is a disorder in the temporomandibular joint of the jaw, which commonly gets affected by triggers that can cause shooting pain, hamper mobility, cause stiffness and soreness in the jaw, as well as lead to possible ear pain and headaches. This is called TMJ disorder, TMJ disease or simply TMJ.
TMJ disorder occurs due to knots in the masseter muscles, which have the ability to stir up massive pain if the jaw develops muscle injury and joint aches. Other triggers to TMJ pain are tooth clenching and grinding which puts immense pressure on the jaw. This undue stress from TMJ causes one to constantly stiffen the facial muscles, as well as possible arthritis and unmodulated movement of the disc between the socket and the ball of the joint in the jaw.
TMJ syndrome can lead to jaw locking and popping, which gives rise to an unpleasant sensation in the face muscles and joints, and can also induce hyperactive sinus drainage. The joint is closely associated with the trigeminal nerve and initially gives rise to symptoms all around the structures, instead of the jaw.
Considering the ear pains and the headaches that are linked to TMJ, this condition is often termed a ‘medical impostor’ and frequently misdiagnosed.
Diagnosis when it comes to TMJ treatment can be a confusing process as the symptoms of TMJ tend to seem unrelated to the jaw. TMJ specialists suggest that the symptoms may be seen in more women as compared to men, especially those in the 20-40 age group.
The common symptoms of TMJ include:
- A sense of noises such as buzzing and ringing in the ears, ‘roaring’ in the head, as well as grating and clicking in the jaw, which can disrupt daily activity and function.
- Difficulty in utilizing the jaw, as the temporomandibular joint which connects it to the bones in the skull tenses up and causes immense pain, which hampers its movement.
- The jaw gets stuck and can either pop or lock in the open or closed mouth condition, making basic chewing, yawing and talking functions extremely discomfiting.
- General pain in the facial muscles leading to a swollen face and discomfort in the jaw area, which further lead to difficulty in chewing and even swallowing.
- The neck and shoulders also tend to get affected negatively.
Causes and Pain Patterns
The causes of TMJ are not entirely clear, as multiple factors, ranging from the tightness of facial muscles to jaw dysfunction, may contribute to muscles and the joints around the face being affected. Certain causes of TMJ may include bad posture such as slouching or severe stress and anxiety (as they increase muscle tension), teeth clenching and grinding, misalignment of the jaw, possible trauma to the jaw or poor teeth positioning, and arthritis and other musculoskeletal disorders.
What makes TMJ peculiar is that it is unclear whether the disorder leads to the symptoms of TMJ or if it is the symptoms that are to be considered the cause of TMJ. Either way, if not treated in a timely manner, the discomfort and the pain caused by TMJ could last from a few months up to a few years and only get worse with time.
TMJ pain relief can be accomplished with various solutions, which include:
- Plenty of home remedies and various facial muscle relaxation techniques that can help relax the jaw and reduce pressure.
- Medical oral appliance devices are available to treat the condition, and these need to be customized as per the individual.
- Applying heat and ice packs to the area under stress can drastically alter the equation.
- Eating soft or liquid like foods can provide comfort as compared to hard foods that only worsen the situation.
- Other methods involve massaging and exercising the jaw in a manner advised by a medical professional.
Remember, if these techniques don’t help, it is imperative to get professional medical assistance before the situation worsens!