Excruciating pain in your face and jaw can be caused by the temporomandibular joint. It’s the bicondylar hinge-like joint that connects your upper and lower jawbones. This complex joint is a series of muscles, ligaments, discs, and bones that move your jaw forward, backward, and side to side. When anything goes wrong in your jaw joint, you can experience pain and trouble moving or opening your jaw.
SYMPTOMS OF TMJ
If you’re experiencing any of the following, you may be dealing with a temporomandibular joint disorder:
- Pain or tenderness in your jaw joint, in/around your ear, neck or shoulders
- Swelling on the side of your face
- Pain while chewing or an uncomfortable bite
- Hearing problems or ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Locked jaw, which makes it difficult to open or close your mouth
- Clicking, grinding, or popping noise when opening and closing your mouth
CAUSES OF TMJ
With TMJ, it is often difficult to determine the cause of your pain. Your doctor or dentist may not be able to tell you what’s causing your TMJ pain. However, a TMJ disorder can occur in the following situations:
- Arthritis damage in joint cartilage
- Disc erosion or displacement in the jaw
- A jaw injury like whiplash or a heavy blow
- Grinding or clenching teeth (chronic)
- Stress or anxiety that causes you to tighten facial and jaw muscles
- Poor posture
- Orthodontic braces
- Excessive use of chewing gum
- Connective tissue diseases that affect your temporomandibular joint
TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR TMJ
TMJ has many treatment options. Your first line of care can start at home. But after you’ve exhausted at-home treatment options for your jaw, you may need to see your doctor or physical therapist for further care.
As you know and practice self-care for your temporomandibular jaw disorder, you may find relief and healing. The following treatments should help ease your pain at home:
- Eat soft foods. Avoid hard or chewy foods that require wide bites like thick sandwiches and beef jerky.
- Take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen or naproxen.
- Practice good posture and avoid resting your chin on your hand.
- Avoid extreme or unnecessary jaw movements. Skip the chewing gum, place your tongue on the roof of your mouth when you yawn, and avoid things like singing or yelling that might cause you to open your jaw too wide.
- Position your jaw with your teeth slightly apart as often as possible. Place your tongue between your teeth if you have problems with grinding or clenching your teeth.
- Place moist heat or cold packs on your jaw and the side of your face for about 10 minutes. You can do this several times a day.
- Learn to relax. You’ll need a few stress management techniques in your arsenal to help you relax and loosen your jaw.
- Massage your neck and jaw muscles. Ask your physical therapist about gentle stretches you can do at home.
- Get good sleep. Your body does the best restorative activities when you are sleeping well.
If your symptoms don’t improve with at-home treatments, the pain and tenderness in your jaw are persistent, or if you can’t open and close your mouth fully, you may need further treatment interventions from your medical providers.
- Medications such as pain relievers, muscle relaxers, or anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Oral splints or mouth guards. These oral devices can be soft or hard and usually slip over your teeth to help keep your jaw in place.
- Physical therapy. A physical therapist can give you stretches and massage techniques to help strengthen and stretch your jaw. They can also use modalities, perform manual treatments, and evaluate behaviors that might be making your TMJ worse.
- Surgical options. When other treatment options can’t relieve your pain, your medical doctor may suggest surgery or other procedures. Some of these might include open joint surgery, arthrocentesis, injections at the joint, TMJ arthroscopy, or modified condylotomy. These procedures range from non-invasive to traditional surgery.
Anytime you have an aching pain in your face, temple, ear, or jaw, you may be dealing with TMJ. As you understand your symptoms, take care of yourself at home, and counsel with your medical providers, you can find relief. Make an appointment with Kintsugi Physical Therapy to learn more about TMJ and what you can do to relieve your symptoms.