The mouth performs several functions vital for life. It's used for food consumption, is one method of breathing and allows for verbal communication. National TMJ Awareness Month brings to light the importance of what options are available if your jaw isn't working quite right. That includes seeking a TMJ dental specialist and at-home treatments to provide relief.
What Is TMJ?
The temporomandibular joint – shortened to TMJ since temporomandibular is a figurative mouthful – is what opens and closes the mouth. Found at the skull's base in front of the ear, it connects the maxilla (upper jaw) with the mandible (lower jaw). The TMJ acts like a door's hinge to open and close the mouth by moving the mandible up and down. It also lets the lower jaw move backward and forward and side to side.
Signs That Something's Not Quite Right
While a dentist needs to perform an examination to diagnose TMJ disorder, there are some signs and symptoms that can cue you to pick up the phone and schedule an appointment. First off, listen for a clicking sound that occurs when you open or shut your mouth. If your jaw locks in place, something is definitely wrong. Tender jaw muscles or pain from chewing or yawning motions are also clues. Misalignment of the upper and lower teeth when you close your mouth is an indication of a jaw issue. Other signs that might not be so obviously associated with TMJ disorder is if you develop migraines, earaches, or pressure emanates from behind the eyes.
Knowledge is power so it will pay to go to your appointment prepared to discuss your condition so take notes beforehand. The Mayo Clinic recommends you write down the following information to discuss with your dentist.
- When did the symptoms start?
- Is this a first time occurrence or has it happened previously?
- Have any recent life events increased your stress levels?
- Do you suffer from frequent headaches, toothaches or neck aches?
- What medications and supplements do you take?
How to Find Relief
There are some steps you can take to alleviate TMJ pain until you can schedule an appointment with your dentist. Suffering doesn't have to be an option. A good old ice pack isn't just for a sprained ankle. It will decrease jaw swelling as well. Also, try to avoid any quick or sharp jaw motions. Follow that up with incorporating stretching techniques designed to release jaw tension. From an eating perspective, make temporary changes to your diet that incorporate softer foods that minimize the need for chewing.
Seek a Professional
Despite the fact that TMJ disorder affects 35 million people in the United States, there are no certified specialists, like a TMJ dentist, according to The TMJ Association. If your dentist can't help you, find a health care professional with a vast understanding of musculoskeletal disorders. Two good places to start are by consulting maxillofacial or craniofacial professionals given their specialty is dealing with the jaw and face. Since you are your best advocate, learn all you can about the TMJ and how the jaw works to help make an informed decision.
You can change your car's oil every three months and replace the brakes every year but that doesn't mean you won't wind up on the side of the road needing a tow. Same goes for the human body. Health issues – the mouth included – will arise. But you still need to build a solid foundation for maintaining healthy teeth and gums. That means brush at least two times each day, floss and schedule regular checkups with your dentist.