We use our mouths to eat and speak, two of the most important functions our bodies perform. But it's easy to take them for granted without understanding how they work. The temporomandibular joint plays a crucial role in both of these actions, and any type of jaw discomfort – also referred to as TMJ jaw – is literally a pain to live with. It is something we want (and often need) treated quickly.
What Is it?
Located in front of the ears, your body has a temporomandibular joint (TMJ) on each side of your head. This joint attaches to the lower part of the jaw, known as the mandible, and the temporal bone found at the side of your head, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). The TMJ allows the jaw to move up and down and side-to-side, flexibly and smoothly. This movement facilitates such functions as chewing food, speaking and yawning. The joint functions like a sliding hinge, making it one of the few unique areas of your body.
If you suspect you're suffering from TMJ jaw, consult with your dentist. He or she will examine your mouth and can take X-rays to better analyze your condition. According to The New York Times, common TMJ symptoms include:
- A clicking noise upon opening and closing the mouth
- Difficulty biting or chewing
- Earaches and headaches
- The jaw locks frequently
- Jaw pain
- Dull facial pain
Some of the symptoms associated with TMJ disorders result from physical stress placed on the structures that surround the joint. Stress can affect jaw, face and neck muscles, as well as joint cartilage, teeth, ligaments, blood vessels and nerves. Unfortunately, the NIDCR states that scientists don't exactly know the specific causes of TMJ jaw. The condition tends to be more common in women than men, so research often focuses on potential links to female hormones. Temporomandibular issues occur mostly in women between the ages of 20 and 40, according to Mayo Clinic.
Chronic TMJ Jaw
If the condition is or becomes chronic, your jaw pain can persist due to osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, tooth loss, nighttime grinding and even bone disease. Chronic TMJ can affect not only parts of the joint, but the adjacent muscles as well. That means treatment options will vary depending on your specific issue. Until your dentist determines a course of treatment, you can take your own steps to lessen the pain. If your jaw pain comes from grinding your teeth while you sleep, use a toothpaste such as Colgate® Sensitive, which can help curb brushing pain caused by enamel loss or root exposure.
Temporomandibular jaw pain affects people in a variety of ways. Thus, there's no singular cure-all. However, from a nighttime mouth guard to anti-inflammatory medicine, treatment options abound for those who suffer from any level of irritation.
Learn more about TMJ jaw in the Colgate Oral Care resources.