This article will review the symptoms, causes, and management of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction disorder. Symptoms include pain on one side of the face that is worse with chewing, yawning or other jaw movements.
What Is Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction?
Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Dysfunction is often caused by a variety of factors, including daily habits, teeth alignment, and even stress. It usually affects one side of the jaw, but in some people, it can affect both sides. People with TMJ dysfunction will typically experience pain on one side of the face that is worse with chewing, yawning or other movements of the jaw. With some simple changes in your daily habits and other at-home treatments, most people with TMJ dysfunction will experience relief of their symptoms within weeks.
Treatment for temporomandibular joint dysfunction usually includes avoiding eating hard foods or foods that require a lot of chewing. Good posture and relaxation techniques may help that connect to your temporomandibular joint. In people who clench or grind their teeth, a mouth guard worn at night (and fitted by your dentist) may also help relieve your symptoms. Pain relievers, including NSAIDs such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), can also help.
If you're experiencing symptoms of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction disorder, you may be able to find relief at home. However, if your pain worsens or persists, you should consult your physician.
Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction Symptoms
The symptoms of temporomandibular joint dysfunction disorder may vary, but they usually include:
- One-sided facial pain
- One-sided ear pain: This pain is usually located right in front of your ear, but sometimes can include other areas surrounding the ear. In rare situations, the pain may seem to be coming from inside the ear.
- Facial pain when moving the jaw: This pain may be most noticeable with eating or yawning.
- Clicking or popping sensation when moving the jaw: Most people are able to hear a click as their jaw opens and closes.
Other symptoms of temporomandibular joint dysfunction disorder can include the following:
- Headache: You might experience headaches that localize to one side of your head, but due to tension and irritation of your jaw muscles, you might also feel pain across the front or along the back of your head.
- Ear ringing: Ringing in your ear might be related to TMJ dysfunction.
- Difficulty with opening the jaw: You might feel as though your mouth gets stuck when you try to open it, but it will still open with some effort.
- Difficulty with closing the jaw: You might feel as though your mouth gets stuck when you try to close it, but it will still close with some effort.
- Neck pain: You might have some neck soreness or stiffness related to tension in your jaw muscles.
Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction Causes
There are several reasons why the temporomandibular joint may be causing you These may include injury to the joint, structural issues, and environmental factors. In rare cases, arthritis or a tumor may be responsible.
- Repetitive movements of the jaw: Sometimes chewing hard foods or repetitive chewing as with biting your nails or chewing gum can lead to overuse of your temporomandibular joint.
- Teeth grinding: Similar to repetitive movements of the jaw with chewing, excessive use of your jaw when grinding your teeth can lead to pain at your temporomandibular joint.
- Teeth misalignment: When your teeth are not well-aligned, your jaw might move in a way that causes irritation to your temporomandibular joint.
- Injury: If you suffer from an accident or other trauma to your head, you might injure the structures that make up the temporomandibular joint, including muscles, bones, and ligaments.
- Stress: Stress usually leads to muscle tension, which can cause extra pressure on your temporomandibular joint.
- Poor posture of the back, neck, and shoulders: Your posture can affect the tension in your muscles, which in turn, can lead to strain on your temporomandibular joint.
- Arthritis: Your temporomandibular joint is no different than other joints in your body and can also be affected by arthritis.
Treatment Options, Relief, and Prevention for Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction
Standard treatment for temporomandibular joint dysfunction includes trying to stop the factors that are making the symptoms worse. This usually means making changes in your daily habits and generally avoiding situations that trigger your symptoms. The good news is that after only a few weeks of making these changes, most people see improvement in their symptoms.
You should keep the following in mind when dealing with symptoms of temporomandibular joint dysfunction disorder.
- Avoid chewing hard foods: This will hopefully reduce the stress placed on your irritated joint.
- Avoid chewing too much: Try your best to avoid chewing your nails or chewing gum regularly. Repetitive movement of your jaw can lead to worse symptoms.
- Relaxation techniques: Reducing stress will help all of the muscles in your body relax, including the ones that connect to your temporomandibular joint.
- Improve posture and sleeping position: Sometimes posture can be a factor that increases the strain placed on your temporomandibular joint. If you find there are certain positions that make your symptoms worse, try to avoid those positions.
In addition to the above recommendations, the following can help address the pain associated with this condition.
- Mouthguard to help with teeth grinding: If teeth grinding or clenching at night is a problem for you, your dentist might be able to help you find the correct mouth guard to relieve these nighttime issues.
- Apply an ice pack to the joint: Ice can help decrease the inflammation in the joint when it is causing you pain.
- Pain medication: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), can sometimes help relieve your pain.
- Muscle relaxant: In some cases, your doctor might recommend trying a muscle relaxing medication, such as cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril) or methocarbamol (Robaxin), to help you get some relief.
Usually, after four to six weeks of the above treatments, most people experience significant relief from their symptoms. If the symptoms are severe or they continue for more than three months without improvement, your doctor might consider injecting your temporomandibular joint with a medication to help with your pain or sending you to a specialist that might be able to perform surgery to correct any issues with the anatomy of your joint.
When to Seek Further Consultation for Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction
Most people with temporomandibular joint dysfunction disorder can manage and improve their symptoms at home. In cases where the pain is very severe or not improving with at-home treatments, it may be necessary to seek further care from your primary care doctor to help you manage your symptoms. If you have a history of rheumatoid arthritis or if your symptoms are accompanied by fever, pain not relieved by over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen or if you are having ringing in the ear, discharge, or difficulty hearing, it may be time to visit your doctor.
- TMJ disorders. Mayo Clinic. Published August 16, 2017.
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