Is There Help for My TMJ?

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the hinged joint connecting your mandible (jaw) to your skull. It’s what allows you to open your mouth, yawn, chew, and move the jaw up and down when speaking. When the TMJ becomes injured or damaged, it may lead to a localized pain condition called temporomandibular joint syndrome or a collection of symptoms called temporomandibular disorder (TMD). The pain can also radiate from the joint into the mouth and head, causing pain in the face and leading to headaches and migraines.

If you’re experiencing soreness just in front of the ear, or if you feel pain radiating outward from that point, Dr. Indra Quagliata at Smylique Dentistry in Rochester, New York, can diagnose whether you have a temporomandibular joint problem and determine the best way to stop the soreness and other symptoms that come with it. Here’s what you need to know.

The causes and symptoms of TMJ problems

Aside from a direct injury to the jaw, such as a blow or a fall, the exact cause of TMDs are often not readily apparent. For many people, the discomfort may be a combination of genetics, arthritis (which affects the joints), and bruxism, which includes jaw clenching and teeth grinding. Other possibilities include poor posture, stress, and the repetitive action of chewing gum.

There are also a range of symptoms that come with TMJ problems. These include:

If you don’t experience pain, limitation of movement, or jaw locking associated with the clicking and popping, you probably don’t require any treatment.

Help for TMJ problems

Sometimes, TMD may resolve itself without treatment. However, if your symptoms persist, Dr. Quagliata may recommend one or more of the following treatments.

Medications

You should first start with OTC pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications to relieve the joint’s pain and discomfort. If these don’t prove to be strong enough, Dr. Quagliata may prescribe prescription-strength ibuprofen; one of the tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline to relieve pain, control bruxism, and act as a sleep aid; or a short-term course of a muscle relaxant to calm muscle spasms that lead to pain.

Another possibility for resistant symptoms is Botox®, a neurotoxin derived from Clostridium botulinum bacteria that, when injected into the joint in small doses, temporarily paralyzes the muscles, preventing them from contracting and causing pain.

Non-medication therapies

Perhaps the widest-used therapy is an occlusal splint or mouthguard. You wear this soft plastic device over your teeth when you sleep — and sometimes while awake — to prevent you from clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth, thus relaxing the TM joint.

Physical therapy is also a possibility. Sessions include exercises designed to stretch and strengthen your jaw muscles, as well as ultrasound treatments and moist heat and ice placed on the jaw to relax the joint.

Patient education and counseling can help you better understand the factors and behaviors that aggravate your pain, so you can learn to avoid them.

Alternative medicine

Complementary and alternative therapies offer non-pharmaceutical ways to help you manage chronic pain. These include:

Lifestyle changes

The first step to correcting the problem is to become aware of what you’re doing to cause or exacerbate it. In the case of TMDs, clenching your jaw, grinding your teeth, chewing on pencils, leaning your chin on your hand, and biting your nails can all contribute to jaw muscle tightness and pain. Changing your habits can help the muscles relax and offer you relief.

Changing your eating habits can also help. Opt for softer foods, cut your food into smaller pieces, avoid sticky or chewy items, and absolutely ditch the chewing gum.

A physical therapist or your dentist can show you how to massage the muscles to relieve tension, and you can combine this with moist heat or ice applied to your jaw joint for added relief.

If you’re struggling with TMJ symptoms, it’s important to know that there’s help. To learn more about your options, contact Smylique Dentistry by calling 585-207-2159 or by scheduling a consultation online.

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