TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint, which refers to the joint in the jaw that connects it to your skull. Like most of the joints in our bodies, the jaw joint is flexible. However, in some people, it may occasionally become misaligned. This is called a temporomandibular joint disorder. When it is not in alignment it may cause pain and have a limited range of motion. This can make activities like chewing and talking rather difficult.
A temporomandibular joint disorder may be caused by an injury to the jaw, but it can also be caused by placing the jaw in an ill-suited position for a prolonged period of time. As the jaw pain becomes worse, you may need to visit a dentist in order to obtain relief from your symptoms. While you may be able to rest some joints, it is very difficult to rest your jaw since you rely on it so heavily on a daily basis.
There are multiple TMJ disorders with different symptoms, which may overlap for some individuals. There may be an issue only when the jaw is in motion, while other individuals may cause constant problems. There may be pain on just one side or on both sides of the jaw. The pain may even come and go or be worse with certain activities. Chewing softer foods may help, but once the pain starts it may be hard to avoid. It may not go away on its own, and the joint may even lock up. This will make it even harder to chew or talk. Once you begin feeling symptoms, it is important to discover the cause. If you can change the behavior causing the symptoms, you may avoid progression entirely.
While many do not think of the jaw as a joint, it may require exercise to stay strong and healthy like any other joint. We flex our jaws daily as we chew and talk. As long as we move it in a comfortable motion that is not causing us pain, this is normally a good way to maintain jaw flexibility. However, if you are experiencing soreness or hear any clicking sounds do check with your dentist. They can help you adjust the motion you use in these activities to cause your jaw less stress, avoiding TMJ disorders. You can also ask them for some exercises you can do to help maintain your jaw flexibility.
Some people may clench it or grind their teeth, causing the jaw to become misaligned. When one is trying to release stress in the body, we usually focus on our larger muscles and joints. However, when we relax muscles and joints, adding our jaw to the list will ensure that we are releasing tension that could lead to pain down the road. If you find that you are going through a particularly stressful time, and you find yourself unable to stop clenching or grinding you can wear a mouth guard to protect your jaw. However, it is a good idea to only do so temporarily while working on reducing your stress levels.
One unforeseen way that damage can be done to the jaw joint is sleeping in a position that puts strain on it. Generally, back sleepers maintain a good jaw alignment. Side and stomach sleepers, however, are more likely to put pressure on their jaw during the night. While sleeping you may not realize just how much strain you are placing on your jaw, nor the length of time you are maintaining it. If you can reduce the amount of time you spend on your stomach or side while you sleep, you will reduce your risk of jaw misalignment. If you have trouble avoiding these positions, there are devices that can offer you assistance.No one enjoys a painful joint, and the jaw is no exception. Remember that focusing on what you can change is a great place to start, but your dentist is there to help if you need further assistance. If you find that you often experience symptoms that come and go, you may consider making some jaw exercises part of your normal routine. You can do them each morning when you wake and prepare your jaw for the work that lies ahead during your day.