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TMJ: Learn the Signs of This Painful Condition and How to Get Relief

The joint in your jaw is called the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), and it acts like a hinge that connects your skull to your jaw in a sliding motion. Inside the joint, there’s a small disc that cushions impact and keeps things moving smoothly. If and when something goes wrong with the muscles, discs, or bones, you have what’s called a temporomandibular disorder (TMJD), but it’s often simply referred to as TMJ.

The symptoms may differ depending on what’s causing your TMJ, so recognizing the signs can be tricky, and the right treatment relies on an accurate diagnosis. Whether your TMJ is the result of injury, arthritis, infection, misalignment, or bruxism, our team of dental experts here at Brite Dental Spa can get to the root of your TMJ and restore the joy in eating and speaking.

How to spot TMJ

If you took a blow to your face and began feeling pain in your jaw, you know exactly what’s causing your TMJ. But not all causes are that obvious. Some cases are the result of gradually progressing arthritis that wears down the cartilage in your jaw joint. Or it could be that the disc has slipped out of place, you have an infection, or you grind your teeth in your sleep. Any of these can lead to TMJ and the following symptoms:

Direct pain

If you find yourself reaching up to touch or gently rub your jaw because it feels tender or achy, this could be a sign of mild TMJ. Some sufferers describe the sensation as a dull ache or a deep bruise. 

Referred pain

Sometimes TMJ pain can show up in places other than your jaw. General aches in your cheeks, neck, and ears can point to TMJ as well. 

Headaches

Because the muscles that run alongside your jaw become tight when you have TMJ, the pain from that tension can travel to your temples and give you a TMJ headache.

Chewing issues

Damaged tissues inside your joint can make it difficult to perform simple actions you normally take for granted, like talking and eating. In addition to pain when you chew or move your jaw, you may also have stiffness in the joint that makes it hard to move.

In extreme cases, TMJ can even cause the jaw to lock up so you can’t open or close your mouth. 

Audible noises

A healthy jaw is a silent jaw. If you hear sounds, such as clicking, popping, or grinding, when you chew or speak, there’s a good chance you have TMJ.

Treating TMJ

The best treatment for your TMJ depends on what’s causing it. In many cases, the discomfort can be alleviated with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, like ibuprofen, and taking a break from tough or chewy foods. You can also use ice packs to reduce pain and swelling.

If your TMJ is caused by grinding your teeth or biting your nails, it might help to engage in some counseling to get to the bottom of these habits. Once you stop, your pain should go away, too. Meanwhile, we can fit you for a mouth guard to wear at night while you sleep to absorb shock, prevent damage to your teeth, and give you some pain relief.

Reducing stress in your life is another way to ease your TMJ symptoms. High levels of stress result in tight muscles and teeth clenching, both of which can trigger a painful episode. 

If these lifestyle changes don’t work, we may suggest an injection of Botox® to relax the muscles in and around your joint. 

If your TMJ doesn’t respond well to any of these treatments, you may be a good candidate for surgery to repair the damage that's causing your chronic pain. 

To find out if you have TMJ and which treatment is best for you, contact us at our New York City office by phone or online today to schedule an appointment.

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