Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders occur when there are problems with the jaws or with the muscles that control chewing. The TMJ is the joint that connects the mandible (lower jaw) to the rest of the cranium. It is located in front of the ear, on each side, and allows a three dimensional movement to be able to speak, eat, and yawn.
What causes TMJ disorders?
Up to now, studies show that symptoms result from problems with the jaw muscles or the joint itself, which are:
- Bruxism (grinding of the teeth).
- Injury to the jaws following an accident or a trauma.
- In the presence of osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis at the TMJ level.
- Stress, which can reinforce and tighten the facial muscles.
Symptoms of TMJ disorders
The symptoms vary from discomfort to extreme pain that can last many years. They are more frequent for women than men, particularly for those between 20 and 40 years of age.
- Pain to the face, head, in the area of the joint, neck, shoulders, or ears while chewing.
- Limited capacity when opening the mouth.
- Jaws get stuck open or closed.
- Cracking of the TMJ upon opening or closing of the mouth.
- Feeling tired in the face.
- Inflammation of the face in the area of the joint.
- Hearing problems.
- Applying ice on the side of the face for a few minutes. Stretching carefully the jaws by opening and closing the mouth a few times, and finally by applying a hot compress on the same side of the face. Repeat three times a day.
- Eating soft foods like yogurt, purée, cottage cheese, soup, eggs, fish, fruits, and cooked vegetables. Avoiding hard foods or those that require opening the mouth very wide.
- Taking anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin). The dentist can prescribe stronger medications in more severe cases.
- Wearing a bite splint. This will prevent the upper teeth from touching the lower teeth if there is bruxism (grinding of the teeth).
- Using braces to correct a malocclusion by placing the teeth in a more stable and less traumatic position.
- Replacing missing teeth with bridges, implants, or partials.
- Avoiding yawning or chewing gum.
- Avoiding resting the chin on the hand or holding the phone between the ear and the shoulder. Keeping a good posture.
- Avoiding the bottom teeth from touching the upper teeth as often as possible, to decrease the pressure on the muscles of the jaws.
- Reducing stress and taking into consideration physiotherapy or massages.
- Electric stimulation (TENS) to relax the joint and the muscles of the face.
- Surgery should only be considered when all the other treatments have failed.
The information above should be used as a reference only. Any medical decision should not be done before consulting a health care professional.
The masculine gender has been used without prejudice to make reading easier.