More than 22% of American children and adults suffer from chronic facial pain, such as jaw pain, headaches or earaches.
The source of these aches and pains may be related to one or both of the temporomandibular (TM) joints. Located on each side of the head, these joints work together, with a complex system of muscles, ligaments, discs and bones, to make different movements for chewing and speaking.
What is TMJ Disorder?
Temporomandibular Disorder refers to a variety of conditions that affect TM joints, jaw muscles and facial nerves. TMJ Disorder may occur when the jaw twists during opening, closing or side-motion movements. People with TMJ Disorder may experience these symptoms:
- pain in or around the ear
- headaches and neck aches
- tenderness of the jaw or jaw muscles
- jaw pain or soreness that is more prevalent in the morning or late afternoon
- jaw pain when chewing, biting or yawning
- difficulty opening and closing the mouth
- clicking or popping noises when opening the mouth
- sensitive teeth when no other medical problems can be found
TMJ Disorder affects more than twice as many women (particularly those of childbearing age) as men and is the most common non-dental related chronic facial pain.
What Causes TMJ Disorder?
- Improper bite (how teeth fit together)
- Jaw dislocation or injury
Stress and TMJ
Stress is thought to be a factor in TMJ Disorder. Even strenuous physical tasks, such as lifting a heavy object or stressful situations, can aggravate TMJ Disorder by causing overuse of jaw muscles, specifically clenching or grinding teeth (also known as bruxism).
What Can I Do to Treat TMJ?
Diagnosis is an important step before treatment. However, because the exact causes and symptoms of TMJ DISORDER are not clear, diagnosing these disorders can be confusing. At present, there is no widely accepted, standard test to correctly identify TMJ.
Other medical conditions, such as a toothache or sinus problems, can cause similar symptoms. Scientists are also exploring how behavioral, psychological and physical factors may combine to cause TMJ Disorder.
In about 90 percent of the cases your description of symptoms, combined with a comprehensive history, neurological and physical examination of face and jaw by the Orofacial Pain Specialist, provides useful information for diagnosing these disorders.
Your Orofacial Pain Specialist may also take CT scan, MRI and make a cast of your teeth to see how your bite fits together, or may request specialized x-rays for the TM joints. Your complete medical history may be reviewed, so it is important to keep your medical office record up-to-date. Your Orofacial Pain Specialist will recommend what type of treatment is needed for your particular problem or refer you to a specialist, such as specially trained facial pain experts. You may also want to check with your physician about TMJ Disorder -type symptoms.
Your Orofacial Pain Specialist may also recommend one of the following:
Modify the pain. This can mean resting the joint, taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, or applying moist heat to the painful areas.
Practice relaxation techniques. Biofeedback or relaxation training may help to manage. Your Orofacial Pain Specialist may prescribe a nightguard to prevent your teeth from grinding during sleep.
Fix poorly aligned teeth. Your Orofacial Pain Specialist may suggest some adjustment, including orthodontic treatment, to correct teeth alignment.
If You Think You Have TMJ Disorder
Keep in mind that for most people, discomfort from TMJ Disorder will eventually go away whether treated or not. Simple self-care practices, such as exercising to reduce teeth-clenching caused by stress, can be effective in easing TMJ Disorder symptoms.
If more treatment is needed, it should be conservative and reversible. Avoid, if at all possible, treatments that cause permanent changes in the bite or jaw. If irreversible treatments are recommended, be sure to get a reliable second opinion.
Many practitioners, especially Orofacial Pain Specialists, are familiar with the conservative treatment of TMJ Disorder.
Pain clinics in hospitals and universities are also a good source of advice and second opinions for these disorders.
Always check your specific medical benefits coverage before undergoing any medical treatment.