TMJ, or temporo-mandibular joint disorder, has many causes. The TMJ is located at the junction of the upper jaw (maxilla) and lower jaw (mandible). Because the TMJ is used frequently every day, it's subject to wear and tear that can cause pain. TMJ pain ranges from headache to ear symptoms such as ear pain, tinnitus, or a feeling of fullness in the ear. Dizziness and crepitus, a crunching or crinkling sound in the ear, are also common. Inability to open the mouth very wide and pain when chewing can be symptoms of TMJ as well.
To alleviate TMJ pain, it's important to isolate the cause. One common cause of TMJ is teeth grinding. Many people grind their teeth at night, either from stress or from habit, wearing down the cartilage in the joint over time. To alleviate pain from TMJ related to bruxism (teeth grinding), an acrylic device made to fit over the teeth may be prescribed. This prevents unconscious teeth grinding, and may be worn just at night or both day and night.
Biting nails, chewing on pencils, or any other activity that constantly moves your jaw forcefully can cause TMJ. Opening your mouth too widely to yawn or to eat can stress the joint. Learning to manage stress through biofeedback techniques or relaxation can help alleviate TMJ pain and spasms in the muscles. Avoiding jaw stress can also help alleviate TMJ pain. People with TMJ should stop chewing gum and avoid foods that are hard to chew. At the same time, passive joint exercises done as part of therapy that help strengthen the joint and increase range of motion, should be done.
Dental malocclusions or previous jaw fractures can lead to misalignment of the jaws and uneven stress. Dental repair can help in these cases, as can occlusive devices that fit over the teeth to help correct the misalignment. These devices are expensive, not always covered by insurance, a nuisance to wear and not always effective, so try diet management and stress easing techniques as well.
If muscle spasms around the TMJ are causing pain, use heat and ice therapy, as well as anti inflammatory medicines such as aspirin or ibuprofen, to help alleviate TMJ pain. Use ice when an injury or flare up first happens, to decrease swelling and inflammation that cause pain. Use heat as the area begins to heal to increase blood flow to the area. Muscle relaxants can also relax muscles spasms.
People with arthritis may develop arthritis in the TMJ. Anti inflammatory medications, along with heat and ice therapy, can help alleviate TMJ pain in people with arthritis.
TMJ pain is not always easy to alleviate. The good news is that the condition is often short lived if steps are taken to treat the cause.