What Causes TMJ and How Can it be Treated?

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a hinge joint that connects your jaw to your skull. Because of these joints, you’re able to move your in a variety of ways to facilitate chewing, talking, and yawning. 

Problems with the jaw and the muscles in your face that control the TMJ are collectively known as temporomandibular disorders (TMD). TMD can cause acute or chronic pain that interferes with such basic activities as eating. It’s therefore imperative that you get relief.

Alireza Panahpour, DDS, and the team at The Systemic Dentist in Los Angeles, California, are dedicated to helping their patients find solutions for their pain. We’ve put together this guide to help you understand what TMD is and how you can treat it successfully.

What causes TMD?

Dentists aren’t exactly sure what causes TMD, though they believe symptoms can come from problems with the jaw muscles or with the parts of the joint itself. In addition, an injury such as a blow or whiplash may lead to TMD.

Other possible causes include:

  • Grinding or clenching your teeth (bruxism), which puts pressure on the joint
  • Movement of the soft disc between the joint’s ball and socket
  • Arthritis
  • Stress, which can lead to clenching

What are the symptoms of TMD?

TMD is characterized by severe pain and discomfort which can last anywhere from a day or so to many years. It can affect either one or both of the jaw joints, it’s more common in women than in men, and it’s most common in those between 20-40 years old.

Notable symptoms include:

  • Pain or tenderness when you chew, speak, or open your mouth wide
  • Discomfort in your face, the joint area, the neck and shoulders, and in or around the ear 
  • Jaws that get “stuck” or “locked” in either the open or closed position — lockjaw
  • Noticeable clicking, grating, or popping sounds within the jaw joint when you open or close your mouth, or when you chew. This is not always painful.
  • Difficulty chewing or a sudden uncomfortable bite — as if the teeth are misaligned
  • Swelling near the affected joint
  • Other chronic pain

 Some other possible symptoms include toothaches, earaches, difficulty hearing, and tinnitus (a ringing or buzzing in the ear).

How is TMD diagnosed?

Since a number of other conditions cause similar symptoms to TMD — such as tooth decay, sinus problems, and arthritis — your dentist will need to take a full medical history and conduct a physical exam to rule out other causes.

How do you treat TMD?

TMD can be treated by everything from DIY remedies to surgery, and everything in between. Treatments include:

DIY remedies

Here are a few tips to get you going:

  • Use OTC nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to relieve muscle pain and swelling.
  • Use moist heat, cold packs, or both, several times each day.
  • Eat soft foods and cut them up so you don’t have to open your mouth wide or chew as much.
  • Learn relaxation techniques, not just for your jaw, but also for your whole body. The calmer you are, the less likely you are to hurt. 
  • Traditional remedies

    If the DIY tips don’t work, you can try traditional remedies, including:

  • Prescription medications such as muscle relaxants, anti-anxiety drugs, and antidepressants. They control pain and reduce stress.
  •  A splint or night guard that fits over your teeth so you can’t clench or grind while you sleep.
  • Dental work such as crowns, bridges, and braces to align your teeth and prevent dental stress on your joints.
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), low-level electrical currents that relax your jaw and facial muscles to provide pain relief.
  • Trigger-point injections, where pain medication or anesthesia is injected into tender spots in the muscles to give relief.
  • Nutrition

    Everything you put in your mouth affects how your body functions. When you have TMD, make sure to eat a lot of veggies and beans for the magnesium. Meat is good for hyaluronic acid, and red meat contains high amounts of zinc, iron, and vitamin B12. These nutrients are critical to help your TMD. Remember, though, that red meat contains a lot of fat and cholesterol, so be judicious about how much you eat to prevent heart disease.

    Do you have jaw pain that won’t stop? Do you think you may have TMD? Contact us at The Systemic DDS to find out about pain relief by calling our office at (310) 986-6001, or by scheduling an appointment online.

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