TMJ (or temporomandibular joint disorder) is a condition that affects the jaw joint. This disorder can affect the muscles, ligaments, or cartilage within the joint or surrounding it. Because your jaw is responsible for opening and closing your mouth, TMJ can affect your ability to eat or speak.
One of the most common symptoms of TMJ is a popping or clicking sound when you hinge your jaw. Fortunately, this may not cause you any pain or discomfort; it may just be annoying. However, over time, it is possible for these symptoms to worsen. For example, the popping and clicking can irritate the joint, causing pain.
Some people with TMJ report having recurring headaches or pain in their faces. This means that it can hurt to touch your face or head. Additionally, you may feel like you have an earache, but the pain is from your jaw. As a result, eating and speaking can become difficult. In extreme cases, your jaw can “lock” or freeze, making it uncomfortable or hard to open or close your mouth.
Why Does This Occur?
There are many things that can cause TMJ, but there is no “one-size-fits-all” reason.
Arthritis is a condition that causes inflammation of the joints. Typically, you might expect arthritis to affect your knees or fingers, which is very common. However, arthritis can also affect the cartilage in your jaw joint. Arthritis can make your joints stiff and painful. One way that you can minimize this pain is to take anti-inflammatory medications at the recommendation of your doctor.
An injury to your jaw can cause lingering pain, especially if it causes long-term damage. There is a long list of ways that you can hurt your jaw through injury. In many of these ways, the joints, ligaments, muscles, and cartilage can all become impaired. If you cannot move your jaw properly, it can cause lasting issues, including pain.
If you were not born with a dysfunctional jaw, it is possible to develop it over time. One way that you can do this is by grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw. Teeth grinding or bruxism is a condition in which a person grinds or clenches their teeth. Most of the time, people are unaware of this behavior because it happens while they sleep. Although, some people adopt this behavior as a coping mechanism for anxiety, stress, or anger.
When you grind your teeth, you create excess stress on your teeth and jaws. This can cause tension in your jaws, especially in the muscles. Tight muscles can cause pain and decrease efficiency. Additionally, the stress can cause damage to the ligaments and cartilage.
For treatment, you may need to talk to your dentist about a mouthguard.
Sometimes, you are born with an issue that can cause TMJ. There is nothing that you did to create the problem; however, you should talk to your doctor about options.
A bite problem, such as an underbite, overbite, or crooked teeth, can force extra tension on your jaw. This can cause TMJ.