The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is located where your upper jaw and lower jaw connect. Problems with this joint range from mild to severe. An estimated 12% of people in the US experience some type of problem with the TMJ at some point during the course of their lifetimes. Women have a tendency to have TMJ disorder more often than men. Those people with severe cases experience a great deal of discomfort with TMJ disorder. Fortunately, there are several non-surgical treatment options that effectively treat this condition.
The severity of TMJ disorder varies from one patient to the next, and symptoms can vary as well. What follows are a list of the most common:
- Pain is typical with this condition, including pain in the jaw, headaches or migraines, neck pain, upper back pain, earaches or pain close to the jaw that spreads across the face.
- The TMJ may make sounds when the patient opens his or her mouth, yawns and/or eats. Popping, grinding and clicking noises are the most common.
- Patients may experience ringing or buzzing in the ears, along with earaches.
- Limited movement is also a common sign of TMJ disorder, whether that occurs when the mouth is open too wide or when the jaw is moved from side to side. Some patients may also experience their jaw locking when they open their mouths wide.
It’s important to remember that you may experience one or more of these symptoms and not actually have TMJ disorder. Tell your doctor or dentist what symptoms you are having so they can provide an accurate diagnosis.
Surgery is usually a last resort in treating TMJ disorder, and that is typically only considered for the most severe cases. Non-surgical options usually work well in reducing or eliminating the symptoms. Those include the following:
- Changes in lifestyle can help. Since stress often plays a role in TMJ disorder, your healthcare provider may recommend that you try to reduce the stress in your life, or practice relaxation techniques or gentle stretching exercises for the jaw. Habits like chewing gum, eating hard foods, and clenching the jaw should all be avoided since these can contribute to the problem.
- Pain can often be treated by applying moist heat or ice to the jaw. In extreme cases, your doctor may recommend steroid injections to reduce swelling and the pain associated with the condition.
- Wearing a mouth guard while you sleep can help to prevent bruxism, or tooth grinding, which can either cause TMJ disorder or make the condition worse. Dentists who treat TMJ disorder can provide you with a custom-fitted mouth guard.
TMJ disorder can be complicated to treat, but in most cases a combination of these non-surgical techniques can at least reduce the symptoms, if not eliminate them altogether.