You may have heard people say, “Oh, my TMJ is acting up,” or “Don’t mind that popping noise, I have TMJ.”
The truth is, everybody has a TMJ. Two of them, in fact. It’s the name of the joints that connect the ends of your jawbone to your skull. What those popping-jawed people mean to say is that they suffer from TMJ disorder (or temporomandibular joint disorder, if you want to impress people even further).
You might be saying, “Great, now I know the real name of it, but where the heck does it come from?”
TMJ disorder, at its root, is an inflammation of the TMJ. The exact cause of this inflammation, however, is not fully understood. The most likely culprit research has uncovered (though not yet conclusively proven) is a chain reaction of conditions caused by uneven teeth.
Straight teeth result in an even bite pattern. The more even your bite pattern, the more evenly distributed the pressure on your jaw muscles. If your jaw muscles experience uneven pressure, you can unconsciously spend much of your time trying to find a proper fit. This most often manifests while you sleep, and bruxism (or nighttime teeth grinding) frequently occurs in patients who experience TMJ disorder.
And now you’re asking the most natural question in the world: “What can I do about it?”
Your dentist or orthodontist can recommend some gentle TMJ exercises to help alleviate any unnecessary tension in your jaw muscles. However, the pain can recur. Nighttime mouth guards don’t exactly help with pain or recurrence, but they can help protect your enamel from wearing away. But most TMJ disorder cases actually resolve themselves in a few years, so you may have to simply pop a couple Tylenol and wait it out.
If your symptoms seem extreme, or your condition persists for more than a few years, your doctor may (in incredibly rare circumstances) recommend surgical intervention, but this is always a last resort.
Well over half of the population of the world will experience TMJ discomfort at some point in their lives. Until we have the research behind us to definitively solve the problem, it may just be one of those things we have to grin and bear. Continue reading here.