Many people have heard of TMJ although they may not know much about it. TMJ is commonly referred to as lockjaw by many people, but the acronym stands for temporomandibular joint. This is the joint that attaches your jawbone to your skull and is responsible for you to open your mouth at all. While the joint is called the TMJ, there is a condition with the same name that causes many patients’ discomfort and occasional embarrassment. However, it is estimated that more than 10 million Americans have been affected by TMJ
What is TMJ?
The disorder that affects your jaw can be caused by many factors. Some of the most common are:
- Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis
- Traumatic jaw injury
- Connective tissue disorder that may affect the TMJ joint
- Bruxism – a condition where people grind their teeth.
- An uneven bite
Additionally, women are more likely than men to develop a TMJ disorder. The reasoning behind this is still unclear to researchers.
Any of these issues can cause problems with how you open and close your mouth. Any damage to the joint can cause pain or the inability for the joint to function properly.
People that have TMJ disorders can experience a wide range of issues. These problems can vary not only in how they present but the severity and duration of their symptoms. Sometimes TMJ is temporary and resolves on its own, but there are certain circumstances where TMJ can get worse if it isn’t treated. If you believe that you may have a TMJ disorder, it is best to schedule an appointment with your dentist and make sure to get a full evaluation as soon as possible.
It’s a great idea to schedule an appointment if you experience:
- Difficulty completely opening your mouth – You may find that you have some discomfort as you move your jaw open and closed. This difficulty can range from being slightly difficult or uncomfortable, to extremely painful, and in some cases, the jaw simply won’t open any further.
- Clicking or popping sounds as you open your jaw – If there are issues with the TMJ joint, it can often result in you hearing or feeling the joint not aligning properly. If this happens, the joint will often make sounds as you manipulate your mouth.
- Locking Jaw – The TMJ joint can sometimes become locked if you open your mouth widely, like in a yawn. In this instance, the jaw becomes “frozen” in the open position, and patients have a difficult time getting their mouth to close again.
- A headache around your temples – There are many reasons for headaches near the temples, but an irritated or inflamed TMJ joint can be one culprit.
- Pain and aches in your ear, jaw, or temples – If you are experiencing issues with your jaw, your body can often attempt to send you signals through pain in the immediate or surrounding areas.
Many TMJ patients find that their symptoms can become much worse if they are tired, stressed, or have been overworking that joint. In more serious cases, the discomfort that is caused by TMJ causes many patients to lose sleep at night.
There are many things that you can do to help combat TMJ.
- You can take certain medications to control swelling or pain
- Ice or heat can often help alleviate some of the issues
- Change your diet to reduce chewing
- Get underlying conditions, such as bruxism, treated by a medical professional
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of a TMJ disorder, it is best to schedule an appointment with your dentist right away. There is no reason to live with the discomfort if your dentist can help find a solution for you more quickly. While TMJ can be temporary, not treating the condition can lead to additional discomfort or damage to your joints.