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A nagging pain in your jaw turns a great day into a miserable one. What’s the source of this pain? Could be your TMJ!

Here’s what your dentist will tell you about TMJ pain, and what to do if you’ve been diagnosed.

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What’s a TMJ, exactly?

TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint. This is the joint that connects your jaw to your head. You use this joint any time you speak or eat. Because your jaw is able to move up and down and side to side, your temporomandibular joint has evolved into a complex machine – a critical meeting point of bone, nerve and muscle. Needless to say, the TMJ can get out of joint (forgive the pun) very easily.

An estimated 4.8 percent of U.S. adults (11.2 to 12.4 million people) had pain in the region of the temporomandibular joint that could be related to TMDs.

Temporomandibular Disorders: Priorities for Research and Care
Bond et al. – The National Academies Press – 2020

TMJ disorder typically expresses with one particular sensation – pain. Symptoms could also include difficulty chewing as well as pain in other parts of the face, such as around the ears. Sometimes, TMJ disorders can cause a patient’s jaw to make a popping or clicking sound. In some cases, it can even cause a patient’s jaw to lock up.

What Causes It?

There are many reasons for TMJ pain. Some of the most common include stress, arthritis, injuries to the mouth and face, and bruxism (teeth grinding). Researchers aren’t sure why, but more women experience TMJ disorders than men. There is also some evidence that TMJ problems may be genetic.

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How Are TMJ Disorders Treated?

The causes of TMJ pain are so varied, the field of possible treatments is wide open. For patients with mild TMJ disorders, self-care can usually minimize symptoms. Eating softer foods, applying ice, not chewing gum, taking over-the-counter pain relief, and performing simple jaw exercises, at least temporarily, are often recommended. Try to reduce the amount of stress in your life, which in turn should reduce teeth grinding or other habits causing the pain. Become aware of neurotic habits or ticks, such as moving your jaw from side to side.

In the case of teeth grinding, your dentist may prescribe a mouth guard for you to wear at night. In some serious cases, surgery may be recommended.

What definitely to do…

When and if jaw pain, jaw stiffness or other symptoms appear, it’s worth mentioning to your dentist on your next visit. And keep researching the issue on the Web – you never know what you’ll find.

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