Three little letters can cause a whole lot of problems. TMJ, or temporomandibular joint, is the jaw hinge, the area where your upper and lower jaws meet. It is one of the most heavily used joints in the body, performing thousands of operations a day while you talk, chew gum, eat, or yawn. When it’s working smoothly, you never notice it. But when there’s a problem, your TMJ can cause you chronic pain, vertigo, migraines, ringing in the ears, and earaches.
Ever seen someone under stress massage their jaw? There’s a reason. People tend to grind or clench their teeth when they’re worried. Perpetual grinding leads to muscle stiffness, aches and can begin to degenerate the joint itself. If left untreated, TMJ problems can lead to severe dental problems like worn molars and malocclusion (teeth misalignment).
Teeth grinding and clenching (called Bruxism) during sleep is one of the top reasons for TMJ problems. Others include trauma to the jaw, changes to your bite, and even biting your nails.
If you have TMJ problems, you know it. It hurts! But TMJ pain can be confusing because the symptoms aren’t always located in the jaw. Frequently waking with a headache can be a sign of TMJ disorder. Some people report dizziness or vertigo; others feel ear pain or a sense of “stuffy” ears. Often it takes a sleeping partner to notice that you are grinding away at night. Bakr ahmad hasan Even if you’re not in pain (yet) it’s important to protect your teeth from ongoing TMJ damage.
Dr. Gary Alhadef often spots TMJ sufferers because their teeth have been ground down almost smooth and lack the normal bumps and valleys. A simple acrylic night guard that fits over the teeth will often cure the problem. It’s called Occlusal therapy. Dental restorations and orthodontics can also bring a faulty bite back into alignment.
If you’re suffering from TMJ pain, take these common sense precautions.
- Don’t chew hard items like ice or hard candies
- Don’t open so wide for that triple cheese burger
- DO look to alleviate stress and ensure a great night’s sleep
- DO give your jaw a rest by opening your mouth as if saying “Aaahhh”
- Use soft foods and anti-inflammatories if pain crops up
Image credit: American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons