Effects of TMJ Disorder

Have you felt pain, or heard a clicking or popping noises when moving your jaw? Has your jaw locked up suddenly after you have yawned? If so, you may be one of the estimated 10 million or more Americans affected by a condition known as TMJ disorder.

What is TMJ?

TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint, a crucially important part of your facial anatomy. You have two TMJs and they are located on either side of your face just below your ear. Each joint is responsible for allowing us to move our mouths so that we can eat, speak, etc. It does this by facilitating two different movements.

One is the hinge-like action of opening and closing our mouth, while the other is a sliding action that allows us to propel our lower jaw forwards and backward. However, if you suffer from limited movement in this joint, we will probably diagnose you with TMJ disorder.

What causes TMJ disorder?

In many cases, it is not possible to determine exactly what has caused a patient to develop TMJ disorder. However, certain factors are considered to make the condition more likely, including:

  • A diagnosis of osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Injury to the jaw
  • A diagnosis of a certain type of connective tissue disease which may affect the temporomandibular joint
  • Bruxism – a condition where a person subconsciously or unconsciously clenches or grinds their teeth
  • Uneven wear to the jaw which is usually caused by an uneven bite

Women have also been shown to be more at risk of developing problems with their TMJ.

What are the effects of TMJ disorder?

TMJ can have a number of unpleasant and sometimes debilitating effects. In some instances, these may come and go, but they often worsen if treatment is not sought promptly.

The most common symptoms of TMJ disorder include:

  • Difficulty opening your mouth fully
  • Clicking, popping and grinding noises when you move your jaw
  • Your jaw locking when you open your mouth, such as when yawning
  • A headache that forms around your temples
  • Pain and aches in your jaw, ear, and temple

In many instances, the pain felt may get worse when you are eating and when you feel stressed or particularly tired. Sometimes the effects of symptoms of TMJ are so severe, it can stop you from sleeping well at night.

What you can do to combat the effects of TMJ disorder

Thankfully, you don’t have to live with the painful and annoying effects of TMJ disorder. There are a number of things you can do at home that will alleviate the discomfort of TMJ disorder. These include:

  • Taking pain relief medications such as paracetamol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs
  • Using heat or ice packs on your jaw
  • Eating soft foods such as pasta, soup, and omelet
  • There are some activities that you should try to avoid too, and these include:
  • Chewing anything hard such as pen tops
  • Biting your nails
  • Biting food using your front teeth
  • Clenching your teeth
  • Yawning too widely

Although the above may help to reduce your jaw pain, if the problem persists or is recurrent, then you may need to speak to a dental professional about some more effective treatment options. These could include wearing a splint that will prevent your teeth from grinding against one another, or orthodontic treatment to improve the position of your bite. In very rare cases, jaw joint surgery may also be recommended.