TMJ is the shortened abbreviation for the temporomandibular joint, and experiencing pain and discomfort here is not uncommon.
The temporomandibular joint is basically the joint where the jawbone connects to the skull.
If you think about the range of motion that your jawbone has, you might start to wonder how a joint like that can actually work. As well as being able to move full-circle, your jawbone can also slide or extend forwards and backwards – which is incredibly useful for eating.
The temporomandibular joint (we’ll refer to it as the TMJ from here on out) is a very special type of joint, that works a little bit like a sliding hinge.
Due to the uniqueness of how it functions and the heavy day to day usage it receives, pain and discomfort in this area are relatively common.
There are a range of TMJ disorders and pinpointing the exact cause of TMJ discomfort in a patient is usually difficult to do.
A number of factors can be at play with any given case of TMJ discomfort, including:
- Old or pre-existing jaw injury
- History of bruxism or teeth grinding/clenching
Many patients with TMJ related pain report feeling pain in the head and neck, pain in the face or ear(s), headaches and occasionally a locked jaw. We also regularly see patients who have problems biting and chewing as a result of TMJ pain, as well as frequent popping or clicking sounds when they chew.
Since the joint itself is so complicated, and the effects of its discomfort are so far-reaching, pinpointing the cause of problems in the TMJ is hard.
A number of studies that have been done on TMJ discomfort suggest heightened sensitivity to developing a TMJ disorder in several groups including women between the ages of 18 and 44, those with lower pain tolerances and people with particular genetic makeup (several genes including those responsible for stress response, psychological health, and inflammation have all been shown to increase a patients chances of developing TMJ discomfort).
TMJ Discomfort Treatment Options
As with anything medical, treatment options for TMJ discomfort come down to a two-pronged approach.
The first side of the equation is managing the symptoms of TMJ discomfort.
Pain and discomfort in such a vital joint that we use so routinely in our day to day lives, is never easy to manage.
The first thing you should do is to try to eliminate chewing as much as possible – since this is the motion that gives you pain and could be a factor in aggravating the root cause of the discomfort. If you regularly chew gum, stop. Try to opt for easier to chew foods for a little while, and see if simply using the joint less will help to eliminate the pain and discomfort. Sometimes this is all that’s needed and in time, whatever it was that was causing the discomfort will naturally go away and the pain will subside.
A highly effective method for symptom management is often to use an orthotic device or mouthguard to help reduce the effect of biting and grinding on the teeth. Mouthguards are a great, effective and affordable way to easily manage the symptoms of TMJ and restrict the damage it does to your teeth over time. Here at Rocky Ridge, we always recommend the Pure Power Mouthguard as a great starting point for TMJ sufferers.
If this still does not eliminate your discomfort, then we usually recommend consulting with your dental professional for more specific and tailored pain and discomfort management advice. Here at Rocky Ridge Dental, we always take the time to sit down with our patients and help them understand how the joint works and functions and how best to manage the use of it to reduce TMJ discomfort.
This will most likely involve taking some over the counter anti-inflammatory and pain relief medications, general stress-reducing activities, gentle jaw exercises and applying some warm compression to the area to relax the joint muscles.
With symptoms now being managed as effectively as they can be, it’s time to start looking at the cause of the discomfort and considering what can be done to eliminate it.
In a lot of cases, treatment for TMJ discomfort will rarely get this far. Oftentimes we find that simply managing the symptoms of TMJ discomfort is enough and that eventually, the thing that was causing the discomfort just naturally goes away.
For some patients though, TMJ disorder can reach a stage of chronic pain and discomfort, and simply managing the symptoms may no longer be enough.
In these cases, your dentist or oral health professional will likely want to conduct some further tests in order to attempt to identify the root cause of the problem.
Common tests and procedures here including things like x-rays and ultrasounds, to help build a picture of what’s happening within the workings of the joint.
In extreme cases, there are surgical options which can help to clean and irrigate the joint area, however, these are always a last resort and not something most patients should consider.
Usually, with chronic or ongoing cases of TMJ discomfort, a referral can be made to a physical therapy specialist who can work with you on an ongoing basis to help restore movement and range of motion to the joint gradually.
If you are experiencing TMJ discomfort in Calgary, contact Rocky Ridge Dental today to consult with one of our dental professionals.