Pain and swelling of the temporomandibular joint or TMJ is a relatively common complaint among dental patients of various ages. This hinged joint is located on either side of the face just in front of each ear and is used to raise and lower the jaw for speaking, eating and yawning. TMJ pain can make these everyday activities difficult and even impossible. It is important to understand the underlying causes of this type of discomfort in order to choose the most appropriate and effective treatment plan.
Causes and symptoms
Stress or a habit of bruxism can result in excessive grinding or clenching of the teeth, putting a strain on various components of the jaw. Arthritis in some individuals can cause swelling in the joints, resulting in TMJ pain. Those who chew gum frequently or work in an environment that requires constant speaking can cause joint fatigue from overuse. Some genetic conditions may also put certain individuals at a higher risk of developing issues of the jaw. These can all lead to uncomfortable or frustrating symptoms:
- Popping or clicking
- Stuck or locked jaw
- Difficulty chewing
Individuals who experience these issues with any type of regularity may suffer from a temporomandibular joint disorder. If the symptoms persist, pinpointing the cause becomes essential.
Regardless of the severity or frequency of jaw-related discomfort, it is important to see a dentist for an evaluation to rule out any serious issues. For many individuals, TMJ pain can be managed effectively with simple lifestyle changes. For others, intervention may be required to alleviate symptoms.
Patients who experience jaw pain should try to limit activities that can overwork the area, such as gum-chewing, eating tough or crunchy foods and excessive talking. Stress should be carefully managed and intentional stretches and exercises should be practiced to help ease tension and promote relaxation in the neck, back and face. Pain medication and hot or cold compresses can also help relieve more serious throbbing and swelling.
Professional treatment plans
If TMJ pain persists after trying home remedies and lifestyle changes, a dentist may recommend more intentional interventions or treatments to help relieve symptoms. Prescription medications may be needed to ease extreme discomfort or address underlying causes, such as arthritis or anxiety. Those who clench or grind their teeth may require a nightguard to relieve pressure and prevent damage. Sometimes, dental work is used to properly align the teeth to create a healthy, more even bite pattern. Physical therapy, injections and even laser or radio wave treatments can also be used to address temporomandibular joint pain. As a last resort, surgery may be needed to correct the problem.
There are many reasons an individual may suffer from TMJ pain. Those who experience aching tension, popping or swelling should schedule an appointment with a dental professional to determine the best course of treatment. While some people are able to manage and alleviate symptoms on their own through simple lifestyle changes, others may require professional treatments to relieve this type of joint misery. It is important to follow the guidance of a dentist for a safe and positive outcome.
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