The temporomandibular joint, often shortened to TMJ, is the fancy name for the joint that attaches our jaw to our skull and that allows us the freedom to move our jaw up and down as well as side to side. Without it we would not be able to perform normal activities like talking, chewing, laughing, and yawning (to name a few). Sadly, there are times when the joint, and the muscles around it, stop working properly, which leads to pain, popping, clicking, grinding, and/or immobility in the joint and surrounding structures. When this occurs it is known as TMD, which stands for temporomandibular dysfunction.
How do you get it?
There are a lot of factors that doctors believe can lead to TMD; some are preventable, while others are not. Some unavoidable factors include birth defects, causing structural problems in the joint or muscles, arthritis in the joint, and tooth formation. Other factors that can lead to TMD are things like chewing gum, clenching your jaw, grinding your teeth, intensive dental work that requires the mouth to be open for long periods, and injuries to the jaw or neck (i.e. whiplash or a heavy blow to that region). There may be other factors, but there are still a lot of unknowns about the condition that make it hard to give a complete list of causes.
How can you prevent it?
Since doctors still don’t know exactly what causes TMD, it is difficult to completely avoid it, but there are some smart things you can be doing that could keep you free of jaw pain and discomfort. First and foremost, do your best to lower your stress levels (http://www.activefamily.net/stress/). A common reaction to stress is to tense the muscles of the shoulders, neck, and jaw, which can lead to a variety of issues including TMD. Other things to avoid are excessive gum chewing and poor posture, both of which put extra strain on muscles that directly affect the joint. It is also important that you get in to see your dentist quickly if you start to have tooth pain or sensitivity, because it is easy to compensate for pain on one side by overusing the other, leading to more pain in the long run. Do you find yourself clenching your teeth? If so, try to be very conscious of letting your jaw sit in a relaxed position. Having a hard time with that? Try sticking your tongue between your front teeth (relaxed not tensed) and it will be a good reminder not to bite down hard.
How can you alleviate the pain if you already have it?
For some of you, it may be too late to prevent the pain. If that’s the case there are some things you can do to help relieve the pain and help the muscles calm down. Moist heat is a great option for helping to relax muscles of the face, neck and shoulders. If you have a heat pack or hot water bottle, cover it in a moist towel before applying it to the affected area. It will be more comfortable and penetrate deeper to provide better relief. Another option you have is ice packs, which can help decrease inflammation and numb the area, providing some pain relief. When using ice make sure that you always have something like a thin towel between your skin and the ice pack, and only use ice for 10-15 minutes at a time. It is also wise to avoid gum and stick to a soft food diet and, if you need to, you can also use over the counter pain relievers as directed on the label. If that doesn’t help, and your TMJ pain/popping/immobilization get worse, make an appointment with a medical professional to find out if a mouth guard or jaw exercises are something you may need. This would also be a good time to make an appointment with your chiropractor. http://www.activefamily.net/contact-us/
Come see us!
Temporomandibular joint dysfunction can be very painful, but there are options for helping keep it under control. In our office we offer quite a few treatment options for TMD including ultrasound therapy, cold laser therapy, and a massage therapist who specializes in the muscles of the head, neck and shoulders (who loves getting rid of TMJ pain). We would love to help you get out of pain and to help you learn how to keep the pain from returning.
Check out our massage therapists bio page here: http://www.activefamily.net/massage-therapists/