TMJ Disorder is painful, but there are alternative treatment options
What is TMJ?
TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint. The TMJ is “two pairs of joints that make…the jawbone…rotate and slide”. The skull and lower jaw are also connected by the TMJ. The TMJ is necessary for chewing, yawning, and talking. Sometimes, there are problems with the TMJ, and these disorders are referred to as TMD (temporomandibular disorders). Another abbreviation for these problems is TMJD. When a patient has TMJ symptoms, the joints of the jaw become painful or inflamed.1 The TMD or TMJD issues are caused by many factors, but dentists have suggested that the “symptoms arise from problems with the muscles…or…the joint”. Whiplash, trauma, or a heavy blow can cause problems. Other causes of symptoms include osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, clenching teeth from stress, grinding teeth, or dislocation. The people most affected by TMJD/TMD are women, between 20 and 40 years of age. Symptoms may consist of pain and tenderness, lessened ability to open the mouth, jaws that lock open or closed, grating, clicking, or popping sounds, trouble chewing, swelling, or a feeling of tiredness. It is also common for patients to experience headaches, neck aches, toothaches, dizziness, earaches, tinnitus (ear ringing), or hearing problems.2
Dentists are not the only doctors who can diagnose TMJ/TMD. Chiropractors can examine patients as well. The chiropractor may ask the patient to “put three fingers in (their) mouth and bite down” or repeatedly open and close the mouth or chew. The chiropractor can see if the jaw operates normally. Chiropractic manipulation, heat or ice applications, or massage may be part of the treatment for the jaw. Chiropractors may also recommend TMJ exercises. It is important that patients use ice after the initial injury, followed by heat during the healing process. They should avoid joint movements that cause harm (e.g., “chomping into a hard apple (or)…hard candy”, “giant sandwiches”). Patients will learn TMD exercises for strengthening and stretching. The jaw can be retrained. Some patients may need splints or special appliances, as well. In that case, referral to an orthodontist or dentist may become necessary.3 Massage is another treatment option for TMJ/TMD. Self-massage is possible because the painful area is easy to find. Patients can use “either constant pressure or small, kneading circles”, working up to “hard pressure”. Over time, it is important to learn not to grind the teeth or clench the jaw. There are many exercises for relaxing and stretching the jaw.4
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