The temporomandibular joints (TMJ) connect your jaws to your skull. An injury or damage to these joints can result to a disorder medical experts call temporomandibular joints syndrome or temporomandibular joints dysfunction. Jaw pain from TMJ syndrome is a common reason for doctor visits among adults. A study published in 2009 reported that TMJ dysfunctions affect 20 to 30 percent of all adults. They are more common among people in the 20 to 40 years age group. Females are also more commonly affected than males. Next to dental or toothache pain, TMJ dysfunction is ahead of all other causes of orofacial pain in terms of frequency. TMJ dysfunction may be categorized as either acute, where the jaw pain lasts no longer than three months, and chronic, where the pain is longer than three months.

Causes of TMJ Syndrome

There is a lack of understanding as to what really causes TMJ syndrome because some of the factors considered as causes are also thought of as probably effects or results. Many different factors are believed contributing to the muscle tightness associated with the TMJ syndrome. Some of the identified causes include:

  • misalignment of the jaw or teeth
  • injury or trauma to the jaw or teeth
  • teeth grinding or bruxism
  • gum chewing
  • poor posture
  • stress / anxiety
  • arthritis, particularly osteoarthritis, and inflammatory disorders of the musculoskeletal system

Based on these causes, any of the following are considered risk factors for TMJ syndrome:

  • Poor posture particularly with regards to the upper back and neck – This may lead to strain in the neck and abnormalities in the functions of the jaw muscles.
  • Women aged 18 to 44 years – They have higher risks.
  • Stress and anxiety – They may cause increased muscle tension.
  • People with trauma in the jaw or have poor teeth position
  • People with chronic conditions of inflammatory arthritis

Symptoms of TMJ Dysfunction

Jaw pain is the main symptoms of TMJ syndrome, together with the following:

  • Clicking or popping of the jaw
  • Pain in the ears
  • Sounds of popping or ringing or cracking in the ears
  • Blurred vision
  • Headaches
  • Sore neck or jaw muscles
  • Tight or stiff neck or jaw muscles
  • Facial pain or numbness or tingling in the cheek
  • Pain, lump or swelling in the temple
  • Lockjaw – Dislocation or locking of the jaw
  • Dizziness / vertigo

Cure for TMJ Syndrome

There are various treatment methods for TMJ syndrome, depending on the severity of the disorder. They may involve simple home remedies or complicated invasive procedure. Home remedies include:

  • Ice packs placed on the area of the affected joint
  • Over-the-counter medications – Nonsteroidal type anti-inflammatory drugs, e.g., ibuprofen or naproxen
  • Soft diet that does not need vigorous chewing, also staying away from chewing gum
  • Massage techniques and stretching exercise for the muscles of the jaw and neck – A physical therapist or doctor can recommend the appropriate stretching exercise and massage procedure.
  • Stress reduction and relaxation techniques

Medical treatment options that may be employed when home remedies do not produce the desired results include:

  • Dental splint – a dental appliance, which is placed in the mouth to keep teeth aligned and to prevent teeth grinding
  • Physical therapy including exercises for the jaws – to strengthen muscles, increase range of motion and improve flexibility
  • Jaw or dental surgery – These may be necessary in severe cases.
    • TMJ arthroscopy – a minor, usually outpatient invasive procedure requiring about a week of recovery time
    • Total joint replacement – a major surgical procedure that may require stay several hospital days stay and about four to six weeks recovery time

Usually, prescription painkillers, muscle relaxers and anti-inflammatory drugs or steroids may be administered with the surgical options.

Alternative treatment options for TMJ dysfunctions including hands-on manual therapies such as chiropractic care, have been proven effective in the the relief of pain and other symptoms associated with TMJ dysfunctions and in the prevention of recurrence of this disorder.