Temporomandibular Joint – TMJ
Not many people know much about the temporomandibular joint commonly know as TMJ. In fact, everyone has two. The joints connect the jawbone to the skull, functioning more or less like a sliding hinge. While most people will never experience any problems with these joints, others will have serious issues at some point in their lives. Here are some basics you should know about a condition known as TMJ, including possible treatments.
What is It?
Temporomandibular joint disorder occurs when the joints holding the jawbone in place become inflamed and are no longer aligned properly. The result can be a great deal of pain whenever the individual attempts to speak, chew, or move the jaw in any way. The problem may involve a single joint or both joints.
How Does It Occur?
TMJ can be caused by a wide range of events. There is come evidence that genetics plays a role. If you have relatives who suffered with the condition, the chances that you will deal with it at some point are greater.
A direct hit to the jaw, such as during a fight or some type of accident, can sometimes involve enough force to alter the alignment of one or both joints. If you develop arthritis, it can also affect these two joints, making it all the more difficult to open and close the mouth normally. This is because the arthritis erodes the cartilage surrounding the joints.
Another possible origin has to do with the habit of grinding teeth. Clenching and grinding the teeth, either while sleeping or during the day, places additional stress on the two joints. Over time, these actions cause inflammation that in turn increases the odds of altering the natural alignment.
What are Some of the Signs?
There are a number of signs that the condition is present to some degree. A patient may experience multiple signs or only experience one or two. In any case, seeking treatment early on will help prevent the condition from progressing.
Pain or a sense of tenderness on each side of the face is one of the first signs. The tenderness is especially strong around the joints themselves. Depending on how severe the situation may be, the discomfort may seem to spread as high up as the ears. In some cases, the pain seems to be felt all the way around the ears.
A jaw that seems to click when you try to speak or chew is another sign that the jaw is out of alignment. In the worst cases, the clicking sound is loud enough for others to hear. As the condition progresses, the jaw may seem to lock for a few seconds before starting to move again.
There will definitely be discomfort when you try to chew. In fact, you may find yourself starting to avoid foods that require a lot of chewing for this very reason.
What Courses of Treatment Are Available?
The type of treatment that is most likely to help with TMJ depends on the underlying cause. Much of the process focuses on helping to calm the inflammation and make it possible for the joints to align properly again. At the same time, pain management is a key element of the treatment process.
Anti-inflammatory medication is often considered the first line of defense. If over the counter options don’t provide much relief, a doctor may provide a prescription for something stronger.
Muscle relaxants may be utilized if the underlying cause has to do with grinding or clenching the teeth. This helps to calm the spasms that trigger the pain and provides more of an opportunity for the joints to begin healing.
Mouth guards are also a common approach to treating this condition. While the mechanism is not quite clear, some medical professionals believe that wearing mouth guards helps to ease the joints back into alignment even as they help to reduce discomfort.
Massage and craniosacral therapy are also helpful in dealing with the pain and inflammation. The therapy helps to soothe irritated tissue and create an environment for healing. Many patients report that they feel less discomfort for several hours after a massage session.
When there is some joint deterioration, surgery may be the only recourse. This may involve injections ahead of time to stabilize the joints, followed with procedures that range from minimally invasive to what’s known as open-joint surgery. With the latter, there is the possibility of replacing the damaged joint rather than attempting to repair it.
The good news is that this condition is highly treatable. See a doctor and/or a dentist as soon as you notice any of the symptoms. Doing so may mean that a few simple non-surgical treatments will be all that’s needed to ease the pain and restore full function.
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