Right behind the middle of your cheek, in the area close to the ear, is the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). The TMJ connects your jawbone to the bones of your skull. This joint allows you to talk, yawn, and chew as it combines sliding motions with secure hinge actions.
To make the movements smooth, the bones involved are covered with cartilage. Furthermore, they are separated by a small disk that absorbs shock. As with any other body part, things can go wrong with the TMJ, resulting in a temporomandibular disorder, or TMD. In this article, we take a closer look at this bodily issue.
The symptoms of TMD often include any or all of the following:
- Pain or unexplained tenderness in the joint area. This sensation may also be felt in other places such as the neck, shoulders, and around the ear, especially when the joint is mobilized such as when you talk, eat, or yawn
- Swelling of the face, particularly in the area where the TMJ is located. This can happen on one or both sides
- Simple feeling of tiredness in the face can also be a symptom, especially in the early stages of the disorder
- Lockjaw, which leads to difficulties in opening or closing the mouth.
- Clicking of the joint may also be a symptom; however, if this is not associated with pain or any form of dysfunction, treatment may not be required.
Who do you consult?
When the pain and/or dysfunction caused by the TMD becomes unbearable or heavily disruptive, it’s time to get a nearby specialist to help treat you. Since TMD is not a commonly talked about issue, it’s understandable if you do not know yet whose services you are going to get. It should help to know that dentists who focus on TMJ are the right ones to call.
Most of the time, the causes of a TMD are not very easy to pinpoint. However, the following are some of the most commonly identified precedents:
- The TMJ has given in to pressure, especially from excessive and forceful clenching or grinding of teeth
- Arthritis has damaged the cartilage that covers the bones
- The disk that comes in between the bones has been eroded or dislodged because of trauma.
Given the causes that we listed above, the following are the factors that may put you at risk of developing a TMD:
- Sustained grinding of teeth, especially during sleep. Wearing mouthguards at night might help in stopping this involuntary behavior.
- Previous jaw injury.
- History or current arthritis diagnosis
- Diseases that weaken connective tissues
Besides seeing a medical professional specializing in TMDs, you can also seek relief through home remedies. To avoid further complicating the issue, you can go on a soft food diet. Soft food options that you can include in your menu are scrambled eggs, yogurt, oatmeal, and mashed potatoes. You don’t have to chew these foods forcefully, so consuming them puts significantly less pressure on your TMJ. You can also apply an ice pack or a warm towel on the joint. Doing this will provide at least temporary relief from pain.
A TMD is a rarely-discussed health issue, but this doesn’t make it any less serious or disruptive. It still pays to know stuff about so you would know how to react if a TMD strikes you or someone close to you.