Many patients experience pain and dysfunction of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Symptoms of TMJ dysfunction can include jaw pain, headaches, muscle pain, locking of the jaw and neck pain. There are a number of factors that contribute to the dysfunction of this important joint. The most common are outlined below.
Malocclusion: Improper alignment of the jaws or teeth. Malocclusion causes patients to overcompensate for teeth that don’t align properly while chewing, talking or swallowing. This can cause a great deal of stress on the joint and facial muscles, creating pain, headaches and often dysfunction of the joint itself.
Bruxism: Grinding or clenching the teeth. Bruxism is usually a reaction to stress or nervousness. Grinding or clenching the teeth creates over-work of the facial muscles resulting in pain, headaches and dysfunction of the joint over time.
Trauma or Arthritis: Injury or damage to the joint or facial muscles. Trauma to the TMJ or facial muscles can result in direct injury to the joint, fracture or stress that can cause pain, headaches and dysfunction of the joint. Arthritis in the TMJ can cause deterioration of the joint that may require surgery or drug therapy.
There are a number of treatment avenues that your surgeon will consider when treating TMJ dysfunction. Most treatments begin as conservatively as possible and usually involve the construction and application of a dental appliance to help reposition the jaw and relieve stress on the facial muscles. Other conservative treatments may include behavior modification, medication or physical therapy. For more advanced cases where extensive damage has been done to the meniscus (disk) inside the joint, or where scar tissue (adhesions) has formed within the joint space itself, surgical procedures may be considered.
- There are a number of practices you can employ to alleviate the symptoms of TMJ dysfunction:
- Avoid chewing gum or very tough, chewy foods
- Massage and stretch your jaw muscles several times a day
- Avoid grinding or clenching your teeth. (Your teeth should only touch when you are chewing or swallowing).
- Use moist heat on stressed facial muscles
- Use non-steroidal ant-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) sparingly. (Advil, Aleve, Motrin)
- Consult your oral surgeon or TMJ specialist for diagnosis and treatment options.
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