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TMJ Disorder — Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

TMJ Disorder — Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Are you struggling with pain or tenderness in your jaw? Does it feel like, when you chew, your jaw isn’t moving normally and you have a lot of pain? If so, it’s possible you are struggling with a temporomandibular joint disorder, better known as TMJ disorder.

This painful disorder can be serious, or you might be able to treat it with simple non-invasive options. Understanding TMJ disorder, along with what causes it and how to treat it, can help you overcome this pain and resume eating and talking normally.

Here’s what you need to know!

What’s TMJ Disorder?

Your temporomandibular joints are located on the sides of your face, right in front of your ears. They connect your lower jaw and your skull and help you move your jaw when you talk or eat. TMJ disorder happens when the muscles and ligaments around those joints become irritated or inflamed.

Sometimes TMJ disorder is very mild and easy to overcome, and other times it’s more serious or even chronic. In those cases, you might need more significant treatment.

The Symptoms of TMJ

Symptoms of TMJ include jaw pain and headaches

What are TMJ disorder symptoms? This affliction usually strikes those between 20 and 40 years of age, although it can happen anytime. It’s also more common in women. 

How common is TMJ disorder? Unfortunately, these disorders are common and affect 25% – 30% of the population. The good news is that there are many treatment options and many cases are mild.

Someone who has TMJ could experience a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Jaw pain
  • Headaches
  • Ear pain and earaches
  • Pain in the shoulders and neck
  • Problems opening the mouth
  • Difficulty chewing or talking
  • Jaws that lock, either open or closed
  • Clicking, popping, or grating sounds when moving the jaw

Other common symptoms include ringing in your ears, changes in your teeth alignment, swelling, and tooth pain.

If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor to find out more about your condition. Hopefully, it’s mild and can be treated easily at home, but in some cases, you might need physiotherapy treatment to help you restore fluid movement to your jaw.

TMJ Disorder Causes

So, what causes TMJ disorder? Doctors are still struggling to answer this question clearly. The pain can come from a genetic predisposition to problems with your muscles and ligaments. Or, you could have arthritis in your jaw. Some patients have had a jaw injury that caused problems with the movement and muscles in their face.

If you grind your teeth often, you might develop TMJ due to the habitual tightening of the muscles of the jaw. Having a lot of stress, or an improper alignment of your teeth causing an unusual bite, can also cause TMJ disorder.

TMJ is often diagnosed by a dentist during your exam. The doctor will notice how you open and close your mouth and how wide your range of motion is. They can feel the jaw joints as you move your jaw as well, and check for inflammation. Certain X-rays, MRIs, or scans can help confirm the diagnosis. 

If you have TMJ, your dentist will refer you to a specialist for additional treatment. This might include appointments at a North York physiotherapy clinic.

How Is TMJ Disorder Treated?

Physiotherapy can relieve TMJ symptoms

TMJ treatments range from simple, at-home care to full surgery. Medical professionals will recommend you start with the less demanding treatments, and if those don’t work, you can try more intensive options.

Conservative Treatments

The first step is generally to apply hot or cold compresses to the painful area. For example, hot packs or ice packs can be used for about 10 minutes at a time. You’ll do a few simple stretches and jaw exercises, and then apply a warm washcloth or towel to your face. This process is repeated several times a day and can lead to significant improvement in your TMJ pain.

You’ll also want to eat softer foods and avoid hard-to-chew items until your symptoms are lessened. You can take over-the-counter pain medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or Aleve®. 

If these steps aren’t effective, then your doctor may prescribe additional medications, such as muscle relaxers, anti-anxiety medication, or even low doses of antidepressants. These can help you relax, reduce stress, and reduce pain. A mouthguard or splint might be prescribed so that you can reduce teeth grinding and better align your bite. 

Intensive Treatment Options

If the previous treatments aren’t effective, your doctor may prescribe more significant steps. Electromagnetic stimulation, known as TENS, can relax your muscles and relieve pain. Shockwave therapy is another option. You might need a medical provider to inject pain medication directly into tender muscles, or give you Botox treatments to reduce muscle pain and inflammation. 

A final option, if nothing else is working, is to get TMJ surgery. If the other treatments still leave you with severe pain, your doctor might recommend surgery to improve the joint’s function. 

There are three kinds of surgery. Minor arthrocentesis can clean the joint, remove scar tissue, or move cartilage discs back into place. Arthroscopy lets the surgeon examine the joint and surrounding area so they can remove inflamed tissue, realign cartilage discs, or otherwise repair the jaw. In the most extreme case, you might need open jaw surgery to correct the bony parts of the jaw, clean up bone chips, or remove tumours on the joint.

The recovery time for the minor surgeries is fairly short, and the open surgery recovery is quite a bit longer and more complex. In each case, you will likely need some physiotherapy to regain proper use of your jaw and avoid further damage.

Get the Treatment You Need for TMJ

If you have TMJ disorder, it’s important to get the treatment you need right away. Untreated, the issue can become more severe and require more intensive treatment. Talk to your dentist to get the diagnosis and referral to a specialist that you need to get started.

Your specialist at Oriole Physiotherapy & Rehabilitation Centre can give you a referral for physiotherapy, massage therapy, and other non-invasive treatments so that you can avoid surgery. We’d love to be your provider for this important care. To find out more about what we can do to help you with jaw pain, contact us today!

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