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The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint that connects your mandible (lower jaw) to your skull. The joint can be found on both sides of your head in front of your ears. It allows your jaw to open and close, enabling you to speak and eat.
This abbreviation is also used to refer to a group of health problems related to your jaw. These disorders can cause tenderness at the joint, facial pain, and difficulty moving the joint. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, as many as 10 million Americans suffer from TMJ. TMJ is more common among women than men. These disorders are treatable, but there are many different possible causes. This can make diagnosis difficult.
Keep reading to learn more about TMJ. You should discuss any concerns with your doctor.
In many cases, it’s not known what causes a TMJ disorder. Trauma to the jaw or joint may play a role. There are also other health conditions that may contribute to the development of TMJ. These include:
There are some other factors that are often associated with the development of TMJ, but they haven’t been proven to cause TMJ. These include:
The symptoms of TMJ disorders depend on the severity and cause of your condition. The most common symptom of TMJ is pain in the jaw and surrounding muscles. Other symptoms typically associated with these disorders include:
Symptoms may show up on just one side of the face, or both.
TMJ disorders can be difficult to diagnose. There are no standard tests to diagnose these disorders. Your doctor may refer you to a dentist or an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist to diagnose your condition.
Your doctor may examine your jaw to see if there is swelling or tenderness if you have symptoms of a TMJ disorder. Your doctor may also use several different imaging tests. These can include:
In most cases, the symptoms of TMJ disorders can be treated with self care practices at home. To ease the symptoms of TMJ you can:
You may need help from your doctor if your symptoms don’t improve with these treatments. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe or recommend the following:
In rare cases, your doctor may recommend surgery or other procedures to treat your condition. Procedures can include:
Procedures used to treat this condition may, in some cases, make your symptoms worse. Talk to your doctor about the potential risks of these procedures.
You may not be able to prevent TMJ from developing, but you might be able to reduce symptoms by lowering your stress levels. It could be helpful to try to stop grinding your teeth if this is an issue for you. Possible solutions for teeth grinding include wearing a mouth guard at night and taking muscle relaxants. You may also help prevent teeth grinding by reducing your overall stress and anxiety through counseling, exercise, and diet.
The outlook for a TMJ disorder depends on the cause of the problem. TMJ can be successfully treated in many people with at-home remedies, such as changing posture or reducing stress. If your condition is caused by a chronic (long term) disease such as arthritis, lifestyle changes may not be enough. Arthritis can wear down the joint over time and increase pain.
Most cases of TMJ warrant changes in lifestyle habits, possibly combined with medications to ease any pain and discomfort. Aggressive treatments are rarely needed. Talk to your doctor about your options to determine what treatment is right for you.
Written by: Darla Burke and Kristeen Cherney
Published on: May 26, 2015
Medically reviewed on: May 26, 2015: Healthline Medical Team
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