Your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects your jaw to your skull. You have a temporomandibular joint on each side of your jaw. It is this jaw that allows you to eat, speak and move your lower jaw around. Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJD) can occur, causing pain, limited mobility and joint noises. Let’s take a closer look at the temporomandibular joint and what causes TMJ.
What Is The Temporomandibular Joint?
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a complex system of cartilage, muscles, ligaments and tendons. For the joint to work successfully, each component needs to function properly. If you have a temporomandibular joint disorder, your healthcare practitioner needs to evaluate where the disorder is occurring and which components are affected.
Patients who have TMJD may experience severe and debilitating pain in the jaw, neck, ear and back. Sometimes TMJD may even feel as though you have a toothache.
What Are The Signs That You Could Have A Temporomandibular Joint Disorder?
You may have a temporomandibular joint disorder if
- You experience pain or discomfort in your jaw, especially when you eat
- You experience lockjaw, or an inability to open or close your mouth
- Your jaw makes a clicking noise when it is opened or closed
- You experience an aching pain below your ear, which may extend into your neck
- Your bite is uncomfortable or uneven
- You experience frequent headaches, often in the morning
- You have pressure or pain behind your eye sockets
- You feel pain or discomfort when yawning or opening your mouth very wide
- Your jaw muscles are constantly sore or tired
What Causes TMJ Disorders?
Your temporomandibular joint disorder could be caused by an array of factors which may include
- An injury or trauma to the jaw can cause pain in the temporomandibular joint.
- Teeth grinding or jaw clenching, caused by stress or anxiety – Teeth grinding can occur during the day or at night. If you are grinding your teeth at night, it’s possible that your bed partner might notice it. If not, then your dentist is likely to notice the signs of wear and tear on your teeth when you have your dental check-up.
- Wear on your joint, which could be caused by osteoarthritis – If you have a condition that causes deterioration in the cartilage of your joints, it could present as temporomandibular pain.
- Osteomyelitis – Osteomyelitis is an infection that affects the bones and surrounding tissue. If you have myelitis of your jaw, it is likely to cause pain and swelling, and possibly a fever. Antibiotics are usually prescribed to treat the infection. Other disorders such as fibromyalgia, gout or rheumatoid arthritis may also cause pain in the temporomandibular joint.
- Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) – A number of patients who have obstructive sleep apnoea also report TMJD symptoms. Obstructive sleep apnoea is a condition in which the muscles supporting the airways collapse, blocking airflow to the brain and body. The lack of oxygen causes the brain to wake you up, in order to breathe. Depending on the severity of your condition, this can happen hundreds of times during the night, affecting your quality of sleep. Patients who have OSA are also more likely to grind their teeth and clench their jaws at night, which can lead to jaw pain and tiredness as well as strain on the temporomandibular joint.
What Treatments Can Relieve Temporomandibular Joint Disorder?
Treatment for TMJ disorders depends on the cause. Sometimes a combination of therapies may be required before you feel relief. Some options may include
Stress management and relaxation techniques
If your TMJ disorder is caused by stress, as you grind your teeth or clench your jaw, you may need to explore some relaxation techniques to give you other ways to manage stress.
Regular exercise, as well as calming therapies such as yoga and meditation, may help you to relax. Sometimes counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy can help you to talk through any stresses you may have.
Medications and injections
Pain medication may help with short term pain relief however ongoing pain and discomfort may require the use of muscle relaxants. Some patients have found relief from TMJD through Botox injections into the jaw joint when pain is caused by muscle problems.
Patients who have obstructive sleep apnoea, who snore or who knowingly grind their teeth at night may benefit from oral appliances such as mouthguards. A custom-built mouthguard can stop your upper and lower jaws from grinding together, taking the strain off your TMJ.
Lifestyle Tips That May Provide Relief From TMJD
You may be able to introduce changes to your lifestyle that can help with managing the pain associated with temporomandibular joint disorders. Some ideas include
- Restricting your jaw movements (like screaming and yawning)
- Chewing on soft foods that do not tire your jaw
- Using your hand to keep your jaw open for support if you do need to yawn
- Becoming more aware of when you clench your jaw and trying not to do it. If you notice this is happening often, make an effort to slip your tongue between your front teeth, as a reminder to relax your jaw muscles
- Not sleeping on your back, as this can force your airways to close. It’s better to sleep on your side, especially if you have obstructive sleep apnoea
- Experiment with cold compresses and heat packs held against your jaw and see if it brings relief. Heat relaxes tight muscles
- Ask your healthcare practitioner if there are any jaw exercises that you could do to strengthen the joint and improve mobility.
Temporomandibular joint disorders are complex and need to be investigated thoroughly to identify a cause. To find out more about what causes TMJ or what you can do for relief, please contact us for an appointment: