TMJ Syndrome is a disorder that targets the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), both of which are located on either side of our face (think the hinges that connect our jaw to our skull). One thing to consider is that whether the word ‘syndrome’ or ‘disorder’ are used to describe the ailment, part of the back & forth with nomenclature is based on the unknown aspects of TMJ syndrome.
There is still uncertainty as to what causes it, but most medical research points out that issues in musculature of the jaw or specific problems with the TMJs are likely the reason for the flare up of symptoms. Sometimes, purely mechanical problems are thought to be a cause for TMJ syndrome such as grinding your teeth. Research is still taking place to come up with more conclusive information.
Symptoms are of interest because they can, in many cases, be things that people deal with on a regular basis. For example, some symptoms can include: pain in area of the TMJs, pain when you chew or talk, trouble chewing, and swelling near the affected area. Other fairly common symptoms include toothaches, headaches, and earaches. As you can see, these symptoms are fairly general, with many somewhat unthreatening enough for someone to seek medical treatment.
Treatment, as is the case with diagnosis, can difficult. From an outsider’s perspective, it may seem like medical professionals are taking a shotgun approach to treating TMJ issues, but doctors are simply trying to rule out possible red herrings. Treatment may usually begin at home with the patient. You may simply be asked to get on a regimen of over-the-counter pain medication (i.e., ibuprofen) to help with pain and swelling. You may also be encouraged to use heat & cold in the same way a physical therapist may work with an ailment that deals with a large muscle group.
If these basic treatments aren’t effective, your dental specialist may choose to prescribe more rigorous medications. Use of muscle relaxers has been effective in relaxing the muscles around the jaw & help lower clenching in the TMJ areas. Some patients are weary of prescription medications, so alternative treatments come into play. Your dental specialist may recommend using a mouthguard to help with any grinding you have at night. We tend to be more aware of our actions when we are awake, but when we sleep, every system in our body is operating in unique ways to help us do one thing — rest. Sometimes, however, our jaws begin to grind together involuntarily, and this is where a mouthguard comes in handy.
When it seems that all treatment options are exhausted, it may be time to consider surgery. This course of action is usually reserved for extreme cases of TMJ issues. This is a touchy subject regarding TMJ syndrome as, again, its root cause(s) is still unknown. Symptoms tend to be based in the realm of pain and discomfort. This, in turn, becomes an issue of pain management and quality of life for the patient.
TMJ syndrome and its causes are still being defined by medical professionals. The important thing to remember is that you, as an individual, are vital to its most successful diagnosis and treatment. Be more aware of any changes or pain you feel, and don’t hesitate in getting in contact with your doctor.