What Is TMJ?

\"shutterstock_127259837\"What Causes TMJ?

TMJ is short for temporomandibular joint disorder, a jaw dysfunction that can result in a number of painful symptoms. Sometimes, though, people like to use the abbreviation TMJ to refer to just the temporomandibular joint itself and prefer the abbreviation TMD or even TMJD for the disorder, but most people just call it TMJ.

TMJ doesn’t have just one cause. It has many potential causes, some of which are well-accepted and others of which are controversial. Some of the more common causes listed for TMJ include:

  • Jaw trauma
  • Car accidents
  • Overactive jaw (such as from chronic gum chewing)
  • Arthritis
  • Misaligned teeth

Often, we’re not sure what causes TMJ. Recent research suggests that TMJ coincides with a number of other health conditions that can be mysterious, such as fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, and vulvodynia. It’s not clear if some of the less explicable cases of TMJ mightn’t be part of an undescribed illness which includes several, if not all, of these related conditions.

What Are the Symptoms of TMJ?

TMJ symptoms are as variable and controversial as its causes. The most common symptom is jaw pain. However, a complete list of possible TMJ symptoms might include:

  • Jaw pain
  • Jaw noise (clicking or popping)
  • Irregular jaw motion, including restricted motion and even locked jaw
  • Headaches
  • Neck pain
  • Ear pain
  • Tinnitus
  • Dental wear or trauma
  • Back pain
  • Tingling in the fingers

Since TMJ overlaps with a number of other pain conditions, it’s hard to know whether all these symptoms are really associated with TMJ or might be associated with other causes.

How Is TMJ Treated?

For minor cases of TMJ, home care is recommended. A few things to try include:

  • Eating soft food
  • Applying heat and cold to the area
  • Taking over-the-counter NSAIDs like ibuprofen, which reduce swelling
  • Stopping gum chewing or chewing on other nonfood objects
  • Reduce stress

If symptoms persist for 7 days or become excruciating, you should contact your primary care doctor to discuss potential causes in your case and determine an appropriate treatment that will address the likely causes of your TMJ.

Potential treatments of TMJ at that point might include:

  • Alternative medicine
  • Physical therapy
  • Prescription medication
  • Orthotic bite guards
  • Surgery

Surgery is considered a treatment of last resort for TMJ and will only be recommended if there are strong indications that it will help in your case.

If you are experiencing symptoms you feel might be attributable to TMJ, please contact Dr. Andy Fine, a primary care doctor in Littleton, for an appointment.


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