Temporomandibular Joint syndrome or TMJ as it is more commonly referred to, is pain that manifests in the jawbone area of the skull. TMJ can be present in each side of the jaw and these joints are made up of bones, muscles, blood vessels and veins. The jaw itself gets almost constant use either through chewing, eating or speaking and even at night-time, as a number of people grind their teeth when asleep.
What causes TMJ?
In order to understand what causes TMJ pain, it is important to have an overview of how the TMJ works in relation to the skull, neck, and spine. The lower jaw or mandible is connected to the skull by the temporomandibular joint. Attached to the mandible are certain muscles used to control movement in the face. Muscles are also used to open and to close the mouth when chewing food and the jawbone, which is controlled by the TMJ, has a hinge or rotation action allowing the person to yawn, chew food and talk.
When the mouth opens, it causes the rounded ends of the lower jaw to move along the joint socket of what is known as the temporal bone. These rounded ends glide back into position when the mouth closes and a soft disc of cartilage between the temporal bone and the round jaw ends, keeping this as smooth motion.
What is TMJ pain?
Any damage to any of these parts of the jaw and cartilage through wear and tear, or trauma from an accident or blow to the face, or disease or poor oral habits, can cause pain. TMJ syndrome can cause pain by microtrauma such as grinding of the teeth or tightening the jaw. This continuous motion on the TMJ can cause the teeth to move out of alignment and the muscle involvement can cause the membranes surrounding the joint to become sore and inflamed.
Any trauma causing a break or fracture to the jawbone can cause the TMJ to dislocate or to damage the soft disc of cartilage that acts as a cushion between the jaw ends and the temporal bone. Even keeping the jaw open for a period of time when having dental treatment, for example, can bring on TMJ pain.
As the jawbone is a joint, it is prone to arthritis caused by natural aging and wear and tear process or due to a degenerative disease. Loss of cartilage and bone forming at the surface of the joint is another root cause of TMJ pain, as well as an infection of the joint due to poor dental hygiene. In some cases, TMJ disorders go away on their own. However, if your symptoms persist, it may be best to make an appointment with a TMJ specialist. Here are our top 8 tips to help bring pain relief.
1. Change of diet
Avoid foods that require a lot of chewing and restrict the diet to the softer food types such as pasta or fish. Soft and blended foods are going to give the jaw a temporary rest and if treating inflammation, will provide relief from pain. So, for a short period of time, avoid biting into crunchy or hard food such as apples and don’t stretch the mouth to accommodate food such as corn on the cob. If in the habit of chewing gum, this is going to exacerbate the problem, as well as increase the intensity of pain, therefore, try to break this habit.
2. Practice good posture/side sleeping
One of the most effective TMJ treatment is to visit a chiropractor who through gentle manipulations of the spine and the skull can correct poor posture. Incorrect posture can result in misalignment of the jaw which can cause TMJ pain. A chiropractor will also assess the overall health and lifestyle of the individual, give guidance on practicing good posture once the body has been realigned and advise on proper sleeping habits. Sleeping on the side and not the back or front, with a pillow for neck and jaw support can help relieve TMJ pain.
3. Ice treatment
Placing an ice pack wrapped in a clean dry cloth on the painful area of the jaw for no more than 10-15 minutes alleviates pain in the jaw and TMJ. It helps by decreasing inflamed muscles and can also promote healing.
4. Jaw and teeth realignment
Regular visits to the dentist are important not only to maintain good oral health and keep an eye on any possible source of gum disease, but orthodontists can also help with realigning the teeth. Orthodontic braces can move teeth back to the proper aligned position and chiropractic adjustments can ensure the temporal bone is working correctly and smoothly relieving any pain.
5. Reduce large jaw movements
Support the jaw when yawning by propping a fist under the jaw to prevent the jawbone from painful locking and also prevent further damage.
6. Practice jaw exercises
Chiropractors use cranial therapy to alleviate tension in the skull and relieve TMJ pain and will also evaluate the individual’s condition and suggest slow and gentle jaw exercises. These will help increase the general mobility of the jaw and promote healing as part of a holistic TMJ treatment.
7. Apply moist heat
Warm hot water bottles wrapped in a cloth or protective covering can also reduce a painful jaw and aid in improved jaw mobility.
8. Relax facial muscles
Meditation and relaxation exercises will help relax the muscles and joints around the TMJ and reduce the painful effect caused by TMJ syndrome. Spend part of the day focusing on relaxing the lips and keeping teeth apart. Deep breathing exercises, yoga, and massage can all aid in reducing the overall stress in the body, relaxing muscles and joints and modulating TMJ pain.
Chiropractic care can address all areas of TMJ treatment and suggest ways in which the individual can make changes to their diet, help realign poor posture and offer nature pain relief treatments that are effective and long-lasting. Chiropractic care also includes sports remedial massage, a huge benefit to athletes or anyone looking to enhance their pre-workout regimen or post-workout care, utilizing dynamic techniques like stretching.
If you are suffering from TMJ pain, then speak to an experienced practitioner as the first step on the road to recovery.
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