You were fine one day, but then the next you began to experience an odd popping sound as you opened and closed your mouth. Or perhaps your jaw, ear, and face have begun to ache.
The pain goes from severe to a mild, throbbing ache. At times, you are able to ignore it. But finally, you give in and go to a dentist. The dentist takes X rays, but the X rays show that cavities are not the problem. So what is?
You might have a temporomandibular disorder. This disorder is also frequently called TMJ or TMD for short. The location that is causing the pain is the temporomandibular joint. It is the connecting joint between your mandible and your lower jaw.
Symptoms of TMJ pain or TMD
MayoClinic.org discusses the various symptoms associated with this disorder. Signs that could point to a temporomandibular disorder include:
- If you have tenderness or pain in your jaw
- If you have pain in one or both sides where your TMJ is located
- If you have pain or achiness around your ear
- If you have experience pain while chewing
- If you have trouble chewing hard objects
- If various places of your face ache
- If your joint locks up or “freezes”, making it difficult to close or open your mouth
- If you hear a popping, clicking, or grating sound or sensation when you open or close your mouth
It is possible to have only one of the above symptoms without the others.
Without knowing what to look for, a simple X ray often does not suffice in diagnosing this disorder. To check to see if what you have is a TMJ disorder, this often calls for an MRI or CT scan.
Want a home test method to figure out if it’s your TMJ that’s giving you problems? Place a finger at the spot where your joint connects your skull to your jaw. Press gently as you slowly open your jaw, if it feels tender, you may have a TMJ disorder.
Of course, getting an official medical diagnosis can help rule out other possibilities. But once you’re sure it’s your TMJ that is causing you pain, what’s next?
Treatment options for TMJ disorder
Pain from a TMJ disorder can range from debilitating to mild. Depending on the cause of this disorder, it may clear up in a couple of weeks to a few months to half a year or longer.
The following are common treatment options to help manage the pain as your TMJ heals.
- Some dentists use Botox to treat TMD patients and this can be effective when used properly. StantonSmiles.com says, “Botox is a neuroparalyzer that is used to relax or soften the function of muscles.” This can help to loosen the jaw muscles, helping the individual to unclench one’s mouth area.
- Doctors and dentists will often recommend an OTC pain relief medication. Or, if your pain is very strong, they might prescribe you a strong pain med. Anti-inflammatory meds are also often prescribed. For chronic and severe cases, muscle relaxant drugs may be prescribed by your doctor.
- Mouth guards are used to prevent teeth grinding at night, which is often a cause of TMJ pain.
- If all other methods have been exhausted, your doctor might recommend surgery. Surgery types include arthrocentesis. This surgery involves fluid being inserted into the joint to remove any inflammatory deposits. Open joint surgery rectifies structural problems in your jaw joint. However, this is a risky procedure.
Causes and risk factors of TMJ
But what causes TMJ disorders to occur? Often the root cause of TMJ is unclear and patients are simply told to wait it out. Some proposed causes include chronic clenching of teeth. If you received an injury to your jaw, which caused the joint to become inflamed. In some cases, the joint’s cartilage may be damaged by arthritis.
Diet that speeds TMJ recovery
Changing what one eats can help speed up the time it takes for your TMJ to heal. Soft foods puts less stress on the jaw. Therefore, a soft diet is recommended for those with a TMJ disorder. A soft diet-based approach contains the following foods:
- Milkshakes and protein shakes
- Mashed potatoes
Avoid foods that cause the jaw to work too hard. For example, apples, carrots, chips, corn, anything too fibrous or chewy. Additionally, avoid any foods that could increase the body’s inflammatory response. For example, foods high in fats, oil, or sugar should be avoided, or risk further aggravating the inflammation in your jaw.