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What causes TMJ pain and how is it treated?

Your TMJ is the temporomandibular joint that connects your jaw to the parts of your skull in front of your ears. This joint is subject to a range conditions collectively called temporomandibular dysfunction (TMD).

TMD is very common, affecting up to a third of adults to some degree and with females being more prone. The condition is not life threatening and while it often presents as mild symptoms, it can be debilitating in severe cases.

The exact cause of TMJ pain is poorly understood. However, there are many factors known to predispose someone to the condition. These can include the disc within the joint being displaced; the joint degenerating, including arthritic conditions; stress, depression, and/or chronic anger; clenching or grinding of the teeth; and trauma.

The main signs and symptoms of TMD are:

  • pain in the muscles connecting to, or in, the joint itself
  • restricted range of motion in the joint
  • noises such as clicking, grinding or popping that are heard when you open or close your mouth.

Other symptoms of TMJ pain may include headaches, referred pain in the neck or teeth, or feeling like the teeth do not meet (occlude) together as usual.

TMD is often managed, rather than treated or cured, and often the condition is mild and self-limiting. Usually less invasive options are used to reduce or alleviate the symptoms first. These may include using relaxation techniques, applying heat packs and practising mindfulness. Sometimes devices such as occlusal splints are prescribed to prevent damage from grinding and to stretch and relax the muscles attached to the TMJ. Other TMD treatment modalities may include prescription medications to relieve the pain and to relax the muscles, or Botox injections. In severe cases or where all other options have failed, surgery by a specialist oral and maxillofacial surgeon may be considered as the last-resort TMD treatment.

If you feel any jaw pain you should visit your dentist as soon as possible for an assessment.

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