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A Closer Look at TMJ

Have you ever heard a clicking or popping sound when opening your mouth? How about experiencing intense, burning pain while trying to chew food? Do you ever wake up with a severe headache that seems to have developed out of nowhere? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be suffering from a temporomandibular joint disorder. The temporomandibular joint connects the jaw to the temporal bones of the skull which are located in front of the ears. This joint is responsible for the movement that allows a person to eat, talk, and yawn. Given the fact that this joint is the most used in the body, it often leads to acute wear and tear.

What can cause TMJ disorders?

Although deterioration can occur naturally, many times, TMJ is caused by an injury, such as whiplash or a blow to the face or head. Individuals who have been in car accidents sustained falls, or suffered other trauma can become afflicted with a post-traumatic form of this disorder.  TMJ disorders can lead to extreme pain and can hinder a person’s life. The discomfort can last anywhere from a few weeks to many years. Though everyone experiences it differently, some of the most common symptoms are:

  • Abnormal sounds when trying to open and close the jaw, including popping and clicking noises
  • Extreme pain, usually felt in the face, jaw, shoulders, neck, in and around the ear
  • Headaches, which can range from mild and dull to full-blown migraines
  • Swelling in the face and jaw area

Sufferers have also been known to experience toothaches, as well as dizziness, sore necks, and upper shoulder pain.

How are TMJ disorders treated?

For those suffering from excessive pain and discomfort, there are many treatment options, as well as an array of professionals who can help in finding relief. Dentists, given their extensive knowledge of the mouth, are usually the first professional that patients visit. A dentist will typically conduct an exam, pinpoint any irregular sounds or movements, and request radiological exams to confirm a diagnosis. Depending on the severity of the findings, the patient may be referred to an experienced TMJ specialist.  Treatment for TMJ can be as simple as self-performed muscle exercises to more serious and long-term solutions, such as surgery. Sometimes a dentist will create a mouthguard to help with grinding and clenching of the jaw. It is important to note that each treatment plan is based on the individual’s pain and distress levels.  Although not life-threatening, it is important to have symptoms checked by a medical professional. Without proper treatment, TMJ disorders may lead to chronic jaw pain, recurring headaches, and other adverse effects.