Many of us are unaware of the key joints on each side of our jaw that come into action every time we talk to someone, chew or swallow our food. They are known as Temporomandibular joints (TMJ). These complex joints connect our jawbone to the bottom of our skull, and the muscles near them allow us to open and close our mouths.
What happens most of the time is that these joints get out of their place or don’t work as they should, mainly because of a jaw injury, overuse, genetics, or arthritis, and that is called a TMD – temporomandibular joint disorder. It may seem scary at first, but you can stop it from becoming a severe health issue when handled with proper care. So, visit a dentist in Sacramento, CA, if you have severe pain in your jaw or a newly developed facial pain.
Understanding the Pain of TMJ
If the pain is mild, it is common for people to ignore it, thinking it will disappear. However, the real problem begins when the pain increases by the day, and a point comes where it does not allow them to carry on with their daily routine.
It is crucial to understand the type of pain you are experiencing and what you must do to reduce it. Mild pain can turn severe in no time, and it is essential to know where the pain is happening and when it occurs.
Here’s an insight into the indicators, triggers, and risk factors involved in TMD:
The indicators start very mild but can result in severe muscle and jaw pain. They include:
- Pain on both sides of your jaw (in the temporomandibular joints)
- Joint lock – difficulty in opening and closing your mouth
- Severe pain or jaw inflammation
- Discomfort around your ear
- Experiencing pain while chewing
- Headaches – migraines
- Throbbing facial pain
- Clicking sound each time you open your mouth to talk or chew
- Blurred vision if the pain is too intense
The temporomandibular joint is, without a doubt, one of the most intricate joints in your body – a flexible joint that allows your jaw to move up and down smoothly, side to side, and back to front. In addition to this, there’s a cartilage plate that covers the part where bones interact with the joint. It plays an integral role in absorbing shock-bearing disks along with protecting your bones from tearing.
Severe TMJ disorders can occur due to the following:
- The joint damages due to a strong shock (trauma)
- The disk dislocates or erodes
- Extreme stress
- Damaged cartilage due to arthritis
- A long-term grinding or clenching of teeth
There are a few factors that lead to an added risk of developing TMJ disorders. They include:
- A serious jaw damage
- Excessive gum chewing
- Different types of arthritis – osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
- Conjunctive tissue diseases which may affect the TMJ
In most cases, however, the cause of a TMJ disorder remains unclear. If you have recurring symptoms, it is best to consult a dentist in Sacramento, CA.
If you have mild symptoms, then in most cases, they go away without the help of any treatment. However, if your symptoms are persistent, your doctor will provide you with a list of available treatment options and advise you on the best one for your case. If the pain is severe, it may be possible that you need more than one treatment at a single time.
If you’re experiencing little to mild pain, medicines will help reduce and eventually stop the ache. The medication associated with TMJ disorder is:
Muscle relaxants: These drugs, such as Metaxalone (Skelaxin), help relax your muscles and relieve pain within a few days at max a few weeks.
Pain reliefs and anti-inflammatories: A bit stronger than the usual pain medication, your dentist might suggest these for a specific time to ensure pain relief.
Tricyclic antidepressants: Used mainly for depression, these antidepressants also help give pain relief, along with controlling your sleep and bruxism.
If your doctor feels that the symptoms and the pain are such that they can be taken care of by non-drug therapies, then you will most likely recommend these:
Counseling: Your doctor may recommend you sit for counseling with them to help educate you on the specific factors and behaviors that enhance your pain and stop you from doing them. Examples of such conduct include teeth clenching or nail-biting.
Occlusal appliances: These include mouth guards or oral splints. They help people to a great extent as they are soft devices that are worn over the teeth.
Physical therapy: Exercises benefit a lot, but treatments like heating or icing also help relieve pain.
Surgery or Other Procedures
When the pain fails to reduce from the commonly used methods, your dentist might suggest other procedures that will do the job. These include:
Injections: Depending upon the case, corticosteroid injections might help some people.
Arthrocentesis: A procedure requiring the insertion of tiny needles into the joint to insert fluid will help remove any fragments or inflammatory byproducts.
Even though surgery is the last option when you consult a doctor, but for some patients, it’s the only one.
Open-joint surgery: This is usually the last option when doctors have to repair or replace the joint. And because there is significant risk involved, the decision is made keeping the pros and cons in mind.
TMJ arthroscopy: It sometimes proves to be as effective as open-joint surgery and has fewer risks. A cannula is placed into the joint space, and an arthroscope is inserted. With the help of small instruments, the surgery is performed.
Modified condylotomy: This surgery is performed right on the mandible, which addresses the TMJ. It is recommended if a person is experiencing jaw locking.
Many symptoms of TMJ will likely respond well to home remedies or stress reduction methods. The most commonly practiced home remedies are:
- Eating soft foods
- Avoiding chewing gum
- Less jaw clenching, grinding
- Reduced nail biting
- Stretching and strengthening exercises
- Placing ice packs or warm heat to the joint area
- Massaging your joint – pain points
- Sedative oils – chamomile, clary sage lavender, and marjoram
Some people might find specific exercises that help stretch, strengthen and reduce jaw pain from TMJ disorders. However, it is advised to discuss all the activities you have in mind and their frequencies with your dentist in Sacramento, CA, before performing them.
Below are the commonly practiced and recommended exercises that help reduce pain:
Goldfish Exercises (Partial Opening)
In this particular exercise, you’ve to do the following steps:
- You start by placing your tongue on the top of your mouth
- Then place one finger where your TMJ is situated
- Now put your pointer finger on your chin
- Now put your jaw to action, drop your lower jaw halfway and then close it
You might find it a slight challenge at first but hopefully won’t experience pain. Another way is to place each finger on the TMJ and then continue with the jaw exercise. You and your dentist mutually decide the number of times you do this.
Goldfish Exercises (Full Opening)
It is almost the same as above, with a slight change while dropping the jaw:
- First, you place your tongue on the top of your mouth
- Then put one finger where your TMJ is located
- Place your pointer finger or middle finger on your chin
- It’s time for some jaw-action – drop your lower jaw entirely and back, then close it
Another way of doing this is by placing each finger on the TMJ and proceeding with the jaw exercise. Your dentist will advise you on the number of times you will do this each day.
Resisted Opening of the Mouth
To perform this exercise, you need to follow the given steps:
- Place two fingers under your chin
- Start opening your mouth slowly
- Apply gentle pressure with your fingers
- Hold for about three to six seconds
- Then gently close your mouth
Resisted Mouth Closing
To perform this exercise, you need to follow the given steps:
- Start by placing your thumbs under your chin
- Place your index fingers between the edge of your mouth and the bottom of your chin
- Now use the fingers and thumbs to apply gentle downward pressure to the chin – all this while closing the mouth
Forward Jaw Movement
To perform this exercise, you first need to get a soft, thin, and preferably one-inch-thick object. Now moving on to the steps:
- Hold the object very gently between the front teeth
- Move your jaw forward so that your bottom and top teeth are aligned
As you come into practice, this will become easier. You can then replace the object with a slightly thicker one.
Side-To-Side Jaw Movement
This muscle strengthening exercise involves moving the jaw from side to side. The steps are as follows:
- Get a thin object
- Gently bite down on the object with your front teeth
- Now slowly move your jaw from side to side
Once it becomes more straightforward for you to do, you can increase the thickness of the object.
Keep in mind no one exercise works the same way on two different people. If one exercise has helped your friends, it might not help you as the case of every individual differs. So, it’s best to consult your dentist.
Consulting a Doctor
If the jaw or facial pain is consistent, the first and most common thing to do will be to speak to your friends and family about it. The next step, however, should be to consult a doctor or your dentist immediately. Any pain should not be taken lightly as it can cause the pain to aggravate and your condition to turn from mild to severe.
The doctor will identify TMD by asking you about your medical history and doing a physical exam to find the root cause of the occurring symptoms. There is no particular test to detect whether a person has a temporomandibular joint disorder or not. To double-check whether they have TMD, patients are usually referred to an otolaryngologist, also known as an ENT specialist or dentists specializing in jaw disorders.
In the worst-case scenario, where the pain is immense, a professional may advise you to get an MRI of the temporomandibular joint to see if any damage has been done to the cartilage of the jaw joint.
Before going to the doctor, be sure to know the type of questions that will come your way:
- When did the symptoms begin?
- Are you under stress?
- Are neck aches, headaches, and toothaches common?
- Do you find difficulty in opening or closing your mouth?
- Is your jaw clicking and causing pain when it moves?
- What activity makes the pain the worst?
- Are your symptoms constant? Or they come and go?
- Are you on any daily medication or supplements?
It gets more manageable for the doctor to identify where the problem lies when you answer these questions. If you’re experiencing the same symptoms for a while now and looking for the best dentist in Sacramento, CA, then contact Soft Touch today to book your appointment.