Are you ready to meet one of your body’s most important joints? Place two fingers on the side of your face just in front of your ear and move your mouth. The movement you can feel just beneath the skin is your temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, which controls jaw function. Like many people, when the temporomandibular joint works correctly, you probably don’t give it a second thought. However, if you have temporomandibular joint disorder, this small part of your body is impossible to ignore.
TMJ disorder causes jaw pain that can affect your life in a variety of ways. Chewing may become difficult or talking unpleasant. Fortunately, many cases of temporomandibular joint disorder get better without treatment, and there are many steps you can take to ease the pain.
What Is Temporomandibular Joint Disorder?
Also known as temporomandibular disorder, or TMD, temporomandibular joint disorder includes dozens of conditions. Many experts refer to these as TMJ disorders. They have two things in common — jaw pain and dysfunction.
More than 10 million people in the U.S. have temporomandibular joint disorder, according to the American Physical Therapy Association. That includes many more women than men. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, temporomandibular joint disorder affects twice as many women as men.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder Risk Factors
In many cases, the cause of TMJ pain is unknown. A variety of factors, such as genetics, stress and pain perception, may play a role.
Clenching or grinding your teeth may increase your risk of a TMJ problem. You may also have a higher risk if you have poor posture or abnormal teeth alignment, or if you’ve had a jaw fracture or facial surgery.
Symptoms: Jaw Pain and More
Most people with a temporomandibular joint disorder experience jaw pain, but that’s not the only symptom that can occur. Other symptoms to watch for include:
- Face or neck pain
- Loss of hearing or ringing in the ears
- Painful clicking of the TMJ when you move your jaw
- Reduced jaw movement or locking of the jaw
How to Find Pain Relief
Temporomandibular joint disorder can be a medical problem or a dental problem, depending on potential contributing factors. Start by reporting jaw pain and other symptoms to your primary care provider. He or she may refer you to your dentist or a TMJ specialist.
Not all temporomandibular joint disorders need treatment — some go away on their own. You can take simple steps to ease jaw discomfort and avoid making it worse. Don’t chew gum or bite your nails, and opt for soft foods instead of hard or tough ones. Gently apply heating pads or cold packs to your jaw to reduce the pain.
Additional forms of treatment may be necessary. Your dentist or medical provider may recommend:
- Going to physical therapy to loosen and strengthen your jaw muscles
- Learning relaxation techniques to help reduce jaw clenching
- Taking over-the-counter medications to control pain
- Wearing a bite guard at night
By working with your dentist and medical providers, you can help keep temporomandibular joint disorder from taking over your life.
Schedule an Appointment
If jaw pain is making speaking or eating difficult, find a primary care provider at St. Elizabeth Physicians in Northern Kentucky and Southeastern Indiana.