Our jaws have the ability to open and close, which allows us to speak, eat and yawn. But when damage occurs to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) – the joint that connects the jaw – our ability to perform these functions diminishes, hence the term “lock jaw.” The jaw becomes locked not allowing for full range of motion making normal tasks quite difficult. (The umbrella term for issues with this joint is called temporomandibular disorder, or TMD.)
Picture a door hinge that moves to allow the door to open fully and close shut. When the door hinge is working correctly the door moves freely, if it becomes rusted or damaged, the door may no longer open to its full capacity.
Causes and symptoms of TMJ
There are many causes for TMJ which include:
- Joint cartilage damage from arthritis
- Joint becomes damaged from injury
- Movement in alignment
- Grinding teeth while sleeping
- Clenched teeth
- Excessive gum chewing
Symptoms of TMJ include:
- Pain and tenderness in the jaw
- Pain around the ears
- Difficulty chewing or opening the mouth
- Facial pain
- Locking of the jaw when trying to open it.
- People between 20 years of age and older can develop TMJ.
Treatment and prevention of TMD
If TMJ is mild it can easily be managed without the use of surgery. Identifying the cause of your TMJ is the first step. For example, if you grind your teeth or clench them you can opt for a mouth guard while sleeping to prevent that from occurring.
To aid in the pain associated to TMJ, over-the-counter pain relievers and muscle relaxants can help as well.
Lifestyle and home remedies include avoiding the overuse of the jaw. Ensure you are not hyper extending your jaw when yawning or chewing. A doctor or physical therapist may recommend exercises that can help strengthen the jaw. Oftentimes, applying cold and heat compresses can help to alleviate pain.
- Eat soft foods: Add yogurt, mashed potatoes, cottage cheese, soup, scrambled eggs, fish, cooked fruits and vegetables, beans, and grains to your menu. Cut foods into small pieces so you chew less. Skip hard, crunchy foods, chewy foods and thick or large bites that require you to open wide.
- Don’t rest your chin on your hand: Practice good posture to reduce neck and facial pain.
- Keep your teeth slightly apart: This will relieve pressure on your jaw. Put your tongue between your teeth to control clenching or grinding during the day.
- Acupuncture: A specialist trained in acupuncture treats chronic pain by inserting hair-thin needles at specific locations on your body.
- Relaxation techniques: Consciously slowing your breathing and taking deep, regular breaths can help relax tense muscles, which can reduce pain.
- Bite guards can be the best conservative option to manage TMJ
If natural remedies don’t help with TMJ, surgery may be required…read more
Image by Flickr user Matthew Hunt used under Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 4.0 license. Image cropped and modified from original.