The acronym TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint, and refers to the joint that is just in front of your ear on either side of your head. This joint and the ligaments surrounding it hold the lower jawbone, or mandible, to the temporal bone of your skull.
Discs located between the joints cushion the bones so that movement is smooth and painless. The temporomandibular joints allow the movements of eating, speaking, and facial expressions and are two of the joints in the body that are the most used and the most complex.
When the joints of your jaw are not sitting correctly, the muscles must work to keep the jaw in the correct position. After some time, the muscles will start to become swollen and fatigued, which places stress on the local nerves. This condition is referred to as TMJ Disorder, or TMD. TMD results in discomfort and pain across the body, including the face, jaw, mouth, ears, shoulders, neck and even back.
In some cases, individuals experience tingling in their toes and fingers. Some physicians have even contributed specific cases of carpal tunnel syndrome to this condition. TMD develops when one or both of the temporomandibular joints cease properly functioning. Research has shown that over 10 million Americans suffer from TMD.
TMJ Disorder Symptoms
There are various symptoms for TMD and can include some of the following:
- Pain in the Jaw Joint: the primary complaint of those suffering from TMD is pain in the jaw joints. Additionally, individuals suffering from TMD may notice a popping, grinding, or clicking noise when they are chewing or yawning. They describe the pain as being dull and constant or sharp and sporadic.
- Facial Pain
- Ear Pain: many times, individuals suffering from TMD also have ringing or pain in their ears and may not realize that this could stem from their TMD. Many times, they assume that it must be a problem with their inner ear.
- Headaches: when your jaw isn’t sitting correctly, and stress is placed on the surrounding muscles and nerves, you could experience headaches- including migraines.
- Tooth Pain: Most often, TMD is linked to tooth pain in those individuals who tend to clench or grind their teeth. This habit is referred to as bruxism. The pressure absorbed by the teeth can cause enamel to wear down, which can lead to fracturing and eventually tooth sensitivity.
- Tingling in extremities
- Neck/shoulder/back pain
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
Treating TMJ Disorder Yourself
Before you go running to the dentist, you should know that there are some things you can do on your own at home to treat your jaw pain. Of course, if these treatments don’t work, you will definitely want to see your dentist for treatment.
As soon as you notice your TMD flaring up, you should apply an ice pack. This will help to relieve the muscle pain and tension. The sooner you ice your jaw, the better off you will be. Heat can also be effective at relieving muscle tension and pain. Use a hot water bottle or heating pad to ease the ache, but make sure it’s not so hot that it causes burns to sensitive skin.
To fight off muscle tightness and pain, consider alternating the ice packs and the hot water bottle. Use heat for about 20 minutes followed by cold for 5-10 minutes. Keep switching until you get some relief.
In order to minimize the amount of stress on your jaw, eat soft foods when you’re in the middle of a TMD flare-up. You can eat things like soups, oranges, pineapples, mashed potatoes, baked fish, and rice. Avoid gum and candy, as those usually require lots of chewing. The less stress you place on your jaw, the sooner it will heal and you can get back to your normal diet.
As much as possible, get rid of the stress in your life. As you reduce your stress, you’ll find that the muscles in your body- including your jaw- will naturally become less tense. One way to relieve stress is to lie down in a dark room and focus on your breathing. Breathe slowly and consciously relax your muscles.
Start off by relaxing your toes and very slowly work your way up your body until all of your muscles are relaxed. This is known as progressive relaxation. Additionally, enjoying a favorite hobby or participating in regular exercise can go a long way in relieving stress.
Take a few moments to massage your jaw. Your jaw pain could be a result of muscle spasms. Taking the time to massage your jaw joints, which are just in front of your ears, can help to relax those tight muscles.
You may want to consider getting acupuncture to treat your TMD. Acupuncture has been proven to relive lots of different types of pain, including jaw pain. Pain relief can be provided in a matter of minutes. However, keep in mind that acupuncture should only be done by a professional in order to ensure that it will be effective. You don’t want your best friend randomly sticking needles in you if he hasn’t been trained in how to do so.
Finally, become aware of your bad habits and eliminate them. If you find that you’re clenching your teeth, resting your head on your hand, cradling the phone between your cheek and shoulder or other activities that stress your jaw joint- correct the problem. For instance, if you work at a desk, invest in a supportive chair and raise your work surface so that you don’t hunch over with your head propped in your hand.
If you’re on the phone a lot and you need the use of both hands, invest in a hands free headset or use the speaker setting. If you notice that you have a habit of clenching your teeth while you’re reading or working, hold a cork between your front teeth to keep your jaws relaxed and separate.