Suffering from severe migraines or jaw pain is just one of many ways TMJ can impede on day-to-day life. TMJ, or temporomandibular joint disorder, is characterized by the dysfunction of the jaw joint and surrounding muscles.
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, TMJ is the most common cause of facial pain. It’s estimated that approximately 5 to 12% of the population suffers from TMJ symptoms. These symptoms can have an effect on a few different surrounding areas, including your ears, head, and teeth.
One major problem with TMJ is that it often goes undiagnosed and the problem can continue to progressively worsen. Since the symptoms are commonly associated with other health concerns, many patients are slow to realize that TMJ is the root cause of their pain.
In observance of TMJ Awareness Month, Dr. Del Kovacevic sheds light on this common problem and discusses some of the simple TMJ exercises that can improve your symptoms.
The Basics of Temporomandibular Joint Disorder
The temporomandibular joints are an intricate area of the body, which allows motion backward, forward, and side-to-side. Going along with this point, these joints are imperative to daily life and basic function. Speaking, chewing, and yawning are basic human functions that are largely dependent on the smooth working of these muscles and the joint.
When this system of muscles, ligaments, discs, and bones stops working properly, patients will typically notice TMJ symptoms immediately. Again, many patients don’t respond to TMJ symptoms right away because these symptoms are present for so many other health problems. If you suspect you may have TMJ, keep an eye out for one or more of the following symptoms:
- Headaches or migraines
- Feeling pressure behind the eyes
- A clicking or popping noise with jaw movement
- Tenderness or swelling of the jaw
- Earaches or popping sounds in the ears
- Jaw joint locking
- Changes in occlusion (the way the top and bottom teeth fit together)
The actual cause of TMJ will vary from patient to patient. In some patients, an injury or the dislocation of the jaw can cause TMJ. Other common causes of TMJ include:
- Bruxism (grinding or clenching your teeth)
- Stress or anxiety that causes the tightening of facial muscles or the jaw
- Misalignment of the jaw
Treat TMJ to Protect Your Smile
Treating your TMJ is not just important for avoiding the pain and discomfort of symptoms, but it is also imperative to protect your oral health. Grinding or clenching your teeth, which is also known as bruxism, is closely linked to TMJ. For some patients, their bruxism is the root cause of their TMJ and conversely, some patients’ TMJ will cause them to grind or clench their teeth.
Bruxism is absolutely detrimental to oral health and can rapidly spur on more serious dental problems if it is not addressed in a timely manner. Grinding or clenching your teeth can occur while conscious or while an individual is sleeping.
An obvious problem with teeth grinding or clenching is the wear it causes. Grinding or clenching the teeth will cause the enamel, or the outer protective layer of the tooth, to erode. The tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the human body and it the first line of defense for the vulnerable inner layers of the tooth. Without the protection of the enamel, tooth decay will occur more rapidly.
Below the enamel is the dentin and tooth pulp, which is where the nerves and blood vessels are located. When bacteria infects this area, patients will notice sensitivity to hot, cold, and sugar foods or beverages.
Along with enamel erosion and increased susceptibility to tooth decay, TMJ patients are also more likely to experience tooth fractures. The stress placed on the teeth from grinding or clenching will cause chips or fractures and once again cause patients to be more susceptible to other dental health problems.
Treatment With TMJ Exercises
There are a variety of ways to address your TMJ and the best choice for you will all depend on the root cause of your jaw dysfunction. Some of the most ways to treat your symptoms include using an over-the-counter pain reliever, using an anti-inflammatory drug or applying moist heat to eliminate jaw muscle spasms.
Some patients have even been able to minimize the severity of the TMJ through simple, at-home exercises. The two main TMJ exercises include:
Relaxation Exercises: Using these exercises can help to relieve pain and they are especially helpful for patients with stress-related TMJ. Patients should utilize breathing exercises to help with relaxation, which will help to relieve tension in the jaw muscles.
Stretching Exercises: While we recommend staying away from stretching exercises if your TMJ has flared up again, this is an excellent option for patients whose TMJ has subsided. Stretch the jaw by pressing the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth and slowly open your mouth. You should stop this exercise if you feel any pain and wait for a time before engaging in any stretching again.
Contact Our Office in Greensburg
If you’re currently dealing with dental problems due to your TMJ or bruxism, we’d love to help! Dr. Kovacevic and his talented staff are dedicated to providing the best dental services for patients here in Greensburg. To find out more about our services, contact our office today at (724) 836-2433