The term TMJ refers to the hinge, known as the temporomandibular joint, and its related jaw muscles that allow us to open and close our mouths. Most of the time this part of the body functions well, and we are able to speak and chew without difficulty. However, it's not uncommon for folks to experience pain in this part of the body at some point during their lives.
While an exact number is not available, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that as many as 10 million Americans each year are afflicted with TMJ related pain. For some, an injury may cause the pain, but most of the time, the source of the pain is unknown.
The degree of pain that is experienced varies widely from person to person. The pain can both come and go or persist for an extended period of time, and includes several common symptoms.
- Pain, or popping and clicking noises when opening and closing the mouth.
- A painful sensation that the jaw is locking in place.
- Pain that can radiate to the neck, head, mouth, teeth or ears, and sometimes radiates to the upper shoulder.
- The pain can be on one side or include the joints and muscles of both sides of the face.
TMJ pain is often distressing to experience, and can be severe enough to disrupt your daily activities. The good news is that there are some simple, inexpensive ways to reduce its intensity.
- Applying ice to the jaw can help relieve pain and reduce swelling.
- Avoid actions that can strain the hinge and jaw muscles, such as chewing gum or opening your jaws too wide.
- Eating soft foods can also help reduce the strain on joints and muscles in the jaw.
- Take steps to reduce the level of stress in your life. Worries and anxieties often lead us to unconsciously tense our muscles throughout the day. This can lead to muscle strain of the jaw and other parts of the body. Learning to control your breathing, walking, meditation, tai-chi, yoga and other forms of gentle exercise can help you to reduce stress and improve your overall health.