TMJ is a very unfortunate joint disorder, which can cause many different symptoms. TMJ technically stands for temporomandibular joint syndrome. It is also sometimes referred to as a disorder, rather than a syndrome. The joints specifically affected by TMJ symptoms are critical for your jaw to move, and also connect the lower jaw to the skull.
While normal, everyday aches and pains are common, it is not normal to experience chronic pain and suffering. This usually means that there is an underlying problem, which needs treatment. TMJ is unique in this case, because your jaw is a complex joint that is connected to many other places in your body. This means that pain and discomfort in your jaw, can often lead to problems throughout your body.
This means that sometimes pain is being experienced in another part of the body, and one would not think to look for a dental issue, as the root cause (pun intended).
How Many People Are Affected By TMJ Symptoms?
Over 10 million people in the United States alone are affected by TMJ symptoms, with over 30% of adults likely to experience some kind of TMJ symptoms at least once in their lifetime. This is a very high number, and shows the important of taking care of your jaw, as well as generally not neglecting your overall oral health.
There is quite a long list of symptoms that those with TMJ can suffer from, and the following list is by no means definitive.
- Problems chewing
- Lack of jaw mobility
- Jaw tenderness
- Jaw spasms
- Locking in jaw joint
- Popping or clicking sounds in your jaw
- Pain in jaw
- A bite that is uneven
- Teeth feel uncomfortable when mouth is closed
- Jaw slides when opening mouth
Head Pain Related To TMJ
One of the biggest issues with TMJ, is serious head pain. This can manifest in a number of ways. The following is a list of common problems associated with head pain.
- Cluster headaches
- Issues with balance
- Hearing issues
- Stuffy or clogged ears
- Unexplained ear pain
- Forehead pain
- Facial swelling
- Facial pain
- Scalp that is overly sensitive
Other Pain Related To TMJ
- Numbness in arms and fingers
- Pain in your back
- Shoulder or neck pain
Causes Of TMJ
There can be multiple causes of TMJ, but they are very often hard to determine. Jaw injuries, arthritis, or even genetics, can play a role. Grinding one’s teeth, or clenching teeth is also frequently common, but many who grind or clench their teeth never develop TMJ, or see TMJ symptoms.
Pressure on the jaw is the main reason why TMJ develops, and the misalignments in the joints and muscles of the jaw can cause TMJ symptoms to show. Interestingly, females are statistically much more likely to develop TMJ and see TMJ symptoms In fact, a shocking 90% of patients who go to their doctor for TMJ symptoms – are female!
Though the exact cause and mechanism behind this remains unclear, the thinking is that hormones and higher levels of stress and anxiety could be the cause behind this strange phenomenon. Stress can cause teeth grinding to occur during sleep, and this decreased amount of sleep can then turn into more stress! It is truly a vicious cycle, that can be very tough to get out of.
Some research also shows that estrogen imbalances may be linked to jaw issues, and likely this plays at least some part, in the large majority of people suffering from TMJ symptoms.
Risk Factors For Developing TMJ
- Injuries to your jaw
- Different forms of arthritis
- Clenching or grinding of teeth
- Tissue-related diseases
Treatment For TMJ
TMJ sometimes goes away without any treatment. However, if you experience persistent symptoms, doctors may recommend multiple treatment options, sometimes simultaneously.
Medications are often used as nonsurgical options for TMJ, as they often relieve the pain associated with the disorder.
Anti-inflammatories are the most commonly used medications, when looking to treat TMJ symptoms. The most popular of these options are NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (typically sold as Motrin or Advil).
Muscle relaxants are sometimes used to help with pain related to TMJ symptoms, but they are only used very sparingly.
Pain relievers are another option, for more serious cases of TMJ symptoms, and are always prescribed by a doctor.
There are also a few non-drug options, when it comes to treating TMJ symptoms. This can include physical therapy, mouth guards, and oral splints. These therapy options include ultrasound, ice and heat, and jaw exercises (which may help strengthen the appropriate muscles).
Surgical Procedures (And Other Options)
Surgery is a serious procedure, and should always be discussed in great detail with a doctor. TMJ symptoms that escalate to an inability to open your jaw all the way, are very serious. If you are experiencing this level of discomfort, it is absolutely best to discuss your options with a doctor. Some of the more common surgical procedures, are as follows.
Modified condylotomy is surgery on the mandible, which indirectly tends to help with TMJ symptoms. It is important to note that this surgery is not in the joint itself.
TMJ arthroscopy is another popular option, which can sometimes work as well as open-joint surgery. This surgery is also less risky than open-joint surgery, and typically leads to less complications. During this process, a small tube, called a ‘cannula’, is placed into the area of the joint, and then an arthroscope is inserted.
Arthrocentesis is one of the more popular options, as it is minimally invasive, and removes debris and other build-up directly in the joint. This surgery is usually done via tiny needles, and arthrocentesis is actually most commonly performed on the knee joint.
Injections may also help some people, though this is not the most common path to go down. Typically this is seen as corticosteroid injections, which go directly into the joint. More rarely, injecting Botox into the chewing muscles is a strategy that can also be employed. This type of injection can sometimes relieve pain associated with TMJ symptoms.
Alternative medicine is a more controversial approach, in treating pain and TMJ symptoms. Since alternative medicine is not mainstream medicine, one should always talk with their doctor, as well as exhibit extra caution, if venturing into the alternative medicine realm.
Biofeedback is typically done via electronic devices that monitor specific muscles, and provide you with this data. From here, you will more effectively be able to practice proper relaxation techniques.
Relaxation techniques are also commonly used in the alternative medicine world, as they can help relax tense muscles, which sometimes aids in assisting pain.
Acupuncture is another possible alternative medicine solution, as it applies direct stimulation to the nerve, resulting in changes in signaling pathways of nerve cells.
Interesting Facts About TMJ Symptoms
Did you know that over 15 million workdays are lost, simply from TMJ symptoms? This mind-blowing fact is indeed true, and shows how important taking care of your teeth and oral health really is.
Since TMJ is a ginglymoarthrodial joint, it can move in multiple ways. The bad news here, is that if you are experiencing TMJ symptoms, you are likely to have many places in your body where you might be experiencing discomfort.
By contrast, nearly 25% of sufferers, report no TMJ symptoms at all! This unfortunately also means that their condition can be left untreated, which can result in dangerous outcomes. Though no TMJ symptoms may be present, the joints around your jaw will likely slowly deteriorate and become inflamed, which can lead to many other problems.
How Can I Avoid Problems With My Teeth?
Taking care of one’s teeth is truly a lifelong journey. It starts by brushing regularly. 2-3 times a day is ideal, and the ADA (American Dental Association) also recommends using a toothpaste with fluoride. Here are some of the toothpastes we recommend.
Brushing is also key because it helps eliminate plaque and food, which creates a sticky white residue on your teeth, and contains large amounts of bacteria. When it comes to choosing a toothbrush, there are many different choices. Some of our patients prefer electric toothbrushes, others do not. There are many different toothbrushes on the market, but this electric toothbrush model is one of our favorites.
Another key step in maintaining optimal dental health, is flossing regularly. It is best to buy floss in bulk, if you are looking to not only save money, but to never be without it, so you can always have fresh and clean teeth. There are a number of great flossing options on the market, and in fact there is very little difference between most varieties. One of our favorites can be found here.
We also recommend daily use of a mouthwash, usually after every brushing. This is – in our opinion – the best mouthwash on the market. Eating a diet low in sugar, and high in nutrients, is also critical in maintaining good dental health. Be sure to also drink plenty of water, and cut out beverages which can cause harm to the enamel of your teeth, like soda (even diet).