TMJ Syndrome

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint that connects your lower jaw to your skull. You can feel it in front of your ears when you open and close your mouth. TMJ disorders cause chronic or recurrent pain and problems in the jaw joint and the muscles that control jaw movement. Symptoms of TMJ disorders are usually relieved with minor treatments. But symptoms may come back, especially in times of stress.

Causes

There is no widely agreed-on cause of TMJ disorders. They have been linked to injury, arthritis, tooth and jaw alignment, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia. A definite connection has not been shown to these, though.

Symptoms

  • Pain in the face, jaw, or neck

  • Pain with jaw movement or chewing

  • Locking or catching sensation of the jaw

  • Clicking, popping, or grinding sounds with movement of the TMJ

  • Headache

  • Ear pain

Home care

Modest treatments are a good first step toward relieving symptoms. Try these methods.

  • Reduce stress on your jaw by not eating crunchy or hard-to-chew foods. Don’t eat hard or sticky candies. Soft foods and liquids are easier on the jaw.

  • Protect your jaw while yawning. If you need to yawn, put your fist under your chin to prevent your mouth from opening too wide.

  • To help relieve pain, put hot or cold packs on the area that hurts. Try both hot and cold to find out which works best for you. To make a cold pack, put ice cubes in a plastic bag that seals at the top. Wrap the bag in a clean, thin towel or cloth. Never put ice or an ice pack directly on the skin. If you use hot packs (small towels soaked in hot water), be careful not to burn yourself.

  • You may take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain, unless you were given a different pain medicine. (Note: If you have chronic liver or kidney disease or have ever had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding, talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines. Also talk to your provider if you are taking medicine to prevent blood clots.) Don’t give aspirin to a child younger than age 19 unless directed by the child’s provider. Taking aspirin can put a child at risk for Reye syndrome. This is a rare but very serious disorder that most often affects the brain and the liver.

Reducing stress

If stress seems to be contributing to your symptoms, try to find the sources of stress in your life. These aren’t always obvious. Common stressors include:

  • Everyday hassles. These include things such as traffic jams, missed appointments, or car trouble.

  • Major life changes. These can be good, such as a new baby or job promotion. Or they can be bad, such as losing a job or losing a loved one.

  • Overload. This is the feeling that you have too many responsibilities and can't take care of everything at once.

  • Helplessness. This is when you feel like your problems are more than you can solve.

When possible, try to make changes in your sources of stress. See if you can avoid hassles, limit the amount of change in your life at one time, and take breaks when you feel overloaded.

Many stressful situations can't be avoided. So learning how to manage stress is very important. To make everyday stress more manageable:

  • Getting regular exercise.

  • Eat nutritious, balanced meals.

  • Get enough rest.

  • Try relaxation and breathing exercises, visualization, biofeedback, or meditation.

  • Take some time out to clear your mind.

For more information, talk with your healthcare provider.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. More testing and other treatment may be needed. If changes to your lifestyle do not improve your symptoms, talk with your healthcare provider about other treatments. These include bite guards for help with teeth grinding, stress management methods, and more. If stress is an important factor and does not respond to the above lifestyle changes, talk with your healthcare provider about a referral for stress management.

If X-rays were done, they will be reviewed by a specialist. You will be told the results and if they affect your treatment.

Call 911

Call 911 if you have any of these:

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing

  • Wheezing

  • Confusion

  • Extreme drowsiness or trouble awakening

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Fast heart rate

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of these:

  • Swollen or red face

  • Jaw or face pain that gets worse

  • Neck, mouth, tooth, or throat pain that gets worse

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

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