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Causes and Management of TMJ Pain

Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) are conditions affecting jaw joints and the surrounding muscles and ligaments. TMD can be caused by many different types of problems such as arthritis, trauma, an improper bite and even stress. Stress can play a big role in temporomandibular joint dysfunction as people are more likely to clench their jaw and grind their teeth when they are stressed. Below is a description of temporomandibular joint disorder including common and how these types of disorders can be treated and managed.

Symptoms of TMD include jaw pain, headaches, pain in the neck/shoulder area and can even lead to difficulty open/closing your mouth. In severe cases of temporomandibular joint disorder, changes in tooth position and even swelling of the face can occur. To diagnose these disorders, providers will often access the range of motion of the jawbone and will press on jaw bones/muscles to feel for any tightness and pain. Also, dental providers will look for any sounds such as clicking or popping while the patient is opening and closing to diagnose TMD.

Management of Temporomandibular Joint Pain:

  • Wearing a splint or night guard.  Night guards are mouthpieces that fit over your upper or lower teeth. When worn, the mouthpieces provide stable tooth contacts during closure. 
  • Applying moist heat or cold packs. Apply an ice pack to the side of your face and temple area for about 10 minutes for acute pain. Heat packs or warm towels can also be used for up to 5 minutes on the side of the face. This hot/cold therapy will allow for muscle relaxation and will alleviate mild pain.
  • Some over the counter medications can also be helpful when dealing with TMD. To relieve pain or swelling medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can also be used. NSAIDs include Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Advil, Motrin, and Naproxen (Aleve).
  • Avoiding extreme jaw movements such as excessive chewing or yawning.
  • Avoiding stress and or speaking to a mental health specialist who can help you manage your stress.  

Preventing/Reducing your risk of Temporomandibular Joint Disorder

  • Practicing good posture.
  • Wearing a night guard, especially if you clench or grind your teeth.
  • Wearing a mouthguard when playing contact sports.
  • Practicing relaxation and stress-reduction techniques.

To sum up, Temporomandibular Joint Disorders are complex and best tackled from multiple different approaches and there are many ways to alleviate symptoms as well. For best management practices ask your dentist!

By Dr. Ishaan Goel

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