The human jaw is one of those parts of our bodies that we have a tendency to take for granted. Formed like a hinge, the jaw is a key component in everyday activities like eating and opening your mouth. While this complex body part serves many functions for us, there are over 10 million Americans who suffer from chronic jaw pain, or a disorder commonly known as TMJ. 

What is TMJ?

TMJ is short for temporomandibular joint, and it refers to a disorder in which your jaw joint is the source of a wide range of discomforts. Depending on the degree of the disorder, symptoms can range from mild ear or neck pain to jaw popping and, in some cases, the jaw getting locked when opening the mouth. TMJ is not only an irritating problem to deal with, but it can also be quite painful.

What Causes TMJ?

Temporomandibular Joint Disorder can be the result of several known causes. TMJ can be caused by an injury to the jaw that might include any kind of harsh or abnormal impact, cartilage damage caused by arthritis, a change in the alignment in the jaw, and most commonly, nightly teeth grinding, nail biting, or teeth clenching from stress. 

I Think I Have TMJ, What Now?

The millions of Americans who are plagued by a chronic popping jaw are in luck because there is treatment (typically very simple treatment) for TMJ. To get a specialized treatment plan that is specific to your case, start by asking your dentist. They will give you a proper exam and can either guide you through treatment or can refer you to a TMJ specialist. 

Treatment for TMJ

Because there are different levels of Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, your treatment plan may vary depending on your needs. Sometimes, a physician bringing the tension that patients hold in their jaw line to light can be helpful. Awareness of how you respond to stress throughout your day can already deter the cause of the issue, so if you have a tendency to clench your teeth when you are stressed, you are less likely to once you are made aware of it. A physical therapist can even suggest certain stretches and techniques to relax your jaw throughout the day. 

If you and your dentist discover that you suffer from nightly teeth grinding while you are asleep, then they can fit you with a mouth guard to wear at night to help stop damage not only to your jaw bone, but to your teeth as well. This is likely to help with headaches as well. 

For the very rare extreme case of TMJ, there are more drastic options to help alleviate the pain and solve the problem. Medications can be given to help such as steroids, muscle relaxers, botox injections, and more. For the really advanced cases, there are also a wide range of surgeries available. These can be as simple as a minimally invasive procedure where fluid is injected into the jaw joint to get rid of any causes of inflammation, but there are more rigorous operations available for aggressive diagnosis involving an incision on the joint itself to mend the issue. Either way, TMJ is a very treatable disorder, and you are best served by starting a conversation with your dentist about your symptoms!