If after a morning yawn, you notice that your jaw is aching, teeth grinding could be to blame. And if your jaw pain is always occurring while you speak, chew, or swallow, you possibly have a temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder (TMJ). TMJ disorders affect nearly 12 percent of people, most of which are younger adults rather than older people. TMJ disorders are more likely to occur in women than men, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). Here are seven essential things you need to know about TMJ disorders:
1. What is a TMJ disorder?
Your temporomandibular joints are joints that connect your jawbone to your skull on both sides of your face. TMJ disorders are characterized by pain in jaw joints and in the muscles responsible for chewing, swallowing, and speaking. Each temporomandibular joint has a disc between the socket and ball for cushion when your jaw rotates, opens, or glides.
There are lots of possible culprits of TMJ disorders such as injury to the jaw, stress, arthritis of the TMJ, dislocated disc in the TMJ, jaw or tooth misalignment, and teeth grinding.
2. The frequency of TMJ disorders
If you experience pain in the jaw during chewing, speaking or other movements, you’re not alone. There are lots of people suffering from pain or dysfunction in the jaw joint attached to muscles. TMJ disorder is a quite common condition, however, it’s typically episodic, which means that the pain can come and go. The symptoms of the disorder often go away on their own.
However, there are people who have the pain and discomfort caused by TMJ disorders that don't go away on their own with time. When joint pain persists for several months and seems to worsen, it’s a good idea to visit a doctor or dental specialist who specializes in treating TMJ disorders.
TMJ disorder typically affects people in their 20s if there is no obvious reason like an accident to the jaw. It usually occurs spontaneously after late adolescence. As mentioned previously, women more often experience TMJ disorder than men, and women also seek care for TMJ disorders more commonly than men.
3. The exact cause of TMJ disorders
Scientists suggest that TMJ disorders are provoked by much more subtle types of activities such as tooth-to-tooth contact over long periods of time. TMJ can also be triggered by anxiety. Some people, when experiencing high levels of anxiety or stress, tend to clench and grind their teeth which might result in pain in the jaw joints and muscles.
4. Treatment options for TMJ
Since in many people, TMJ disorder doesn’t go away on its own, it’s essential to treat the problem in time to prevent severe pain. Consuming soft foods, avoiding extreme jaw movements, or using heat or ice packs can help lower inflammation and reduce pain. Anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen can help as well. Some people find relief in relaxation techniques like meditation and other things that help relax muscles, which can also be effective.
5. Not all treatment options are equal
Since everyone’s symptoms and pain severity from TMJ are different, doctors often personalize treatment by trying various methods. Some people benefit from using night mouthguards, however, according to some research, they are less effective than jaw exercises and other self-management options.
Practicing relaxation techniques and gentle jaw stretching can effectively decrease TMJ pain. It’s also a good idea to avoid things that can trigger TMJ symptoms, such as gum chewing.
One treatment option for TMJ is Botox. Although this type of treatment has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat TMJ disorders, it’s still helpful for many people. Botox can be used to both weaken the masseter muscle and improve TMJ pain from teeth grinding or to cosmetically thin the masseter muscle and take away a square look of the lower face.