Talking, chewing and swallowing are all actions that involve your temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which connects your jawbone to your skull. Located below the temple and in front of the ear, this hinge joint gives your mouth its range of motion. It lets you move your lower jaw up, down and side-to-side.
TMJ disorders can be caused by jaw injuries, overuse, arthritis and other factors. If you’re experiencing symptoms such as :
Pain when chewing
Clicking or popping sounds when you open or close your mouth
Your jaw joint locking
Pain in your ear, face, jaw and neck
You should consult a TMJ specialist as soon as possible, as the earlier you seek treatment, the faster you can recover.
Understanding the three main types of temporomandibular joint disorders
There are three main types of temporomandibular joint disorders:
1. Muscle disorders
The most common type. This TMJ disorder involves pain in the muscles that control the function of your jaw, neck and shoulders.
2. Derangement disorders
A degenerative TMJ disorder that involves a disruption or imbalance in the inner workings of the jaw, such as a dislocation of a disc or a damaged bone.
3. Degenerative disorders
Degenerative disorders are connected to the overall wear and tear of the TMJ through conditions such as arthritis, which can deteriorate the cartilage in the joint.
A physical evaluation can be necessary to diagnose a TMJ disorder. A physiotherapist, doctor or dentist can feel your jaw and ask you to open, close and move it to observe its range of motion, take note of any abnormal sounds and identify pain points. An MRI or x-ray is sometimes recommended by your healthcare professional if they suspect there might be issues with your bones or discs of your joint.
How to get pain relief
After a thorough evaluation, a physiotherapist or TMJ specialist will develop a personalized treatment plan for you depending on the cause of your TMJ disorder and its severity. Recovery times can vary depending on your disorder. If you’re experiencing acute pain, it can resolve in as little as six weeks through physiotherapy.
To find a solution to your problem, physiotherapy and consultations with a dentist are usually enough, so reconstructive surgery is often not necessary. When surgery is required, physiotherapy can help you with recovery.
TMJ exercises can help relieve pain by improving your flexibility, range of motion and strength. According to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Dental Research, for people with TMJ disc displacement, performing TMJ exercises increases mouth opening range more than using a mouth guard.
TMJ exercises can include:
Jaw, head and neck exercises
Relaxation and breathing exercises
TMJ massage to relax and lengthen muscles
Heat or ice therapy
Ultrasound and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy
Simple things you can do at home can also help alleviate jaw pain and improve recovery. These include:
Avoiding food that’s difficult to chew, like hard candies, tough meat or bread and raw vegetables
Breathing through your nose.
Replacing gum with fresh mints or breath strips
Sleeping on your back
Avoiding biting your nails
Cutting up your food into smaller bites
Limiting large jaw movements, like yawning or singing