Your temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, connects your jaw to the bottom of your skull and is the main hinge that allows you to open your mouth to eat and speak. This important joint requires multiple muscles to function correctly, but certain TMJ disorders can inhibit its function ad cause pain, stiffness, and other symptoms in the body. TMJ disorders are also often referred to simply as TMJ or TMD, and while little is known about what causes them, research in the field and the help of orofacial pain specialists have given new insight into its causes and treatments. Together, these professionals are working toward the answers to how to cure TMJ permanently.
What Is TMJ?
If you find yourself constantly asking ‘why does my jaw hurt?” you may suffer from TMJ. TMJ is the shorthand term used to refer to a number of different disorders that affect the temporomandibular joint and surrounding structures. Orofacial pain can have many different causes and multiple similar symptoms, meaning that it can be difficult to diagnose—most patients will have to being their journey by searching “TMJ specialist near me” to find a dentist with the appropriate qualifications. TMJ can range in its severity from temporary annoyance to a debilitating chronic condition, and the treatments are also similarly varied, including medication, lifestyle changes, stress management techniques and therapy, and even surgery.
What Are Common Symptoms?
The most common symptom of TMJ is pain or stiffness in the jaw, neck, or muscles in the face. This can also include a feeling of locking or grinding when opening your mouth, or an audible “crack” or “pop” while yawning, chewing, or speaking. Because TMJ is thought to come from stiffness in muscles around the jaw, neck, and head, the tension associated with the condition can also lead to headaches, difficulty sleeping or eating, and more. Other potential causes for TMJ include injury to the jaw, a misaligned bite or dental issues, and subconscious tensing due to mental stress.
Available Treatments for TMJ
Because there are so many potential causes for TMJ, clinicians have sometimes found that vastly different treatments—even in combination—can all be effective. Orofacial pain specialists can offer specific treatments based on your symptoms, health history, preferences, and more, some of which include:
Wearing a Splint or Night Guard
TMJ can still happen while patients are asleep, meaning that sufferers can often wake up with stiffness and pain. Sometimes TMJ is caused by bruxism, or grinding your teeth, in which case custom-made splints or night guards can prevent you from subconsciously tensing your jaw in your sleep and cushion your teeth.
In mild to moderate cases, pain from TMJ can be treated with over-the-counter pain medications or anti inflammatories. If these do not alleviate symptoms, prescription strength pain medication, muscle relaxers, and even tricyclic antidepressants have all been shown to provide relief.
Because TMJ can sometimes be a physical manifestation of subconscious stress, your orofacial pain specialist may recommend that you seek psychotherapy to help you understand and combat stressors in your life. This may be as simple as taking longer breaks from work or finding hobbies you take pleasure in, to more intensive psychotherapy to establish and treat the root causes of stress in your life.
Because many symptoms of TMJ are treatable through other means, orofacial pain specialists usually recommend surgical operations as a final option. This is not because they are not effective, but because it is always best practice to try less-invasive methods first. Surgical options for TMJ treatment include arthrocentesis to remove fluid from the joint, corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation, open joint surgery to repair or modify the joint, and more.
TMJ Home Treatment Options
Patients who suffer from the condition rightfully wonder how to cure TMJ permanently, and the good news is that mild and moderate cases can often be treated at home without invasive or complicated treatments. In some cases, they can even be treated without the need for specialist consultation. Some effective home remedies include:
Certain exercises and physical massages can help improve mobility and strengthen weak muscles in the jaw. In this case, it’s best to consult a specialist to understand appropriate exercises as some movements may further irritate the joint.
Hot and Cold Compress
Alternating between hot and cold compresses on the affected muscles can help improve range of motion and treat inflammation by soothing the muscles.
Get Better Sleep
Sleep can often be impacted by TMJ symptoms caused by stress, which in turn can then make stress worse. If you find it difficult to sleep with your TMJ symptoms, check out some sleeping tips for TMJ patients here.
What Will Happen if TMJ Disorder Is Not Treated?
TMJ is a mysterious condition and sometimes it can go away on its own. This is especially true of mild and moderate cases that come on suddenly, and may just be a temporary response to a lifestyle change or other factor. In certain cases, though, TMJ can get worse if not treated, and can eventually become debilitating to patients suffering from it. If you have experienced consistent discomfort and pain in your jaw for more than a few weeks, it’s best to call and make an appointment with an orofacial pain specialist.
If you live in Northern Nevada and suffer from TMJ, headaches, or other pain in the face or neck, then the specialists at Northern Nevada Center for Orofacial Pain are ready to help you find relief. With a team of experienced and dedicated staff, we pride ourselves on diagnosing and treating TMJ so our patients can get back to their lives. If you are experiencing TMJ, need treatment, or have any questions, call our office and schedule an appointment today.