The temporomandibular joint is the joint that connects your jaw to your skull. When this joint is damaged, it can lead to pain and other symptoms, a syndrome called temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome or temporomandibular disorder (TMD).
TMJ pain can come from many different sources, but some of the most common are grinding teeth (either when you’re awake or when you’re asleep), clenching, poor posture, stress (which can aggravate the grinding and clenching), arthritis, and even chewing gum.
TMJ injuries can often be hard to pin down, and may be due to a number of different factors, including genetics. And it may be a combination of many of these things.
The reason for the pain is because the TMJ moves in two ways: it has a hinge action and a sliding motion. Normally, there’s a pad of cartilage that acts as a shock absorber to keep the movement smooth, but when there’s been a TMJ injury--usually due to a chronic repetitive motion--this cartilage wears down and sometimes disappears entirely.
Whatever the cause, TMJ pain is annoying at best and debilitating at worst. Let’s look at what kinds of pain TMJ and TMD syndromes cause, so you can get a better idea if you’re suffering from them.
Some of the signs and symptoms of TMJ syndrome may include:
This pain can be accompanied by various sounds, including grating or clicking when you move your jaw, but if there’s no pain when you experience these sounds then you probably don’t need to see a doctor (unless the noise is severe and persistent).
If your TMJ pain is minor, or if it’s new to you and you don’t know if it’s time to call the doctor, you can treat it with alternating hot and cold packs over the joint. Over the counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen can help. Avoid chewing gum, as the repetitive jaw movement can exacerbate the pain. Massage or stretching of the muscles in the neck and jaw will help. And, if you can manage, stress reduction will decrease with clenching and grinding (but that’s often easier said than done).
If you are having significant or persistent pain or tenderness in your TMJ, or if you are having trouble opening or closing your jaw, you should contact a doctor. Sometimes people discuss the problem with dentists or general practitioners, but a TMJ specialist is the preferred option.
TMJ & Sleep Therapy Centre of Raleigh-Durham