Temporomandibular disorder (TMJ) is becoming increasingly common. The condition appears to be affecting more people every year. But why?
The purpose of this post is to find out. We explore some of the driving forces behind the epidemic and what, if anything, people can do to reduce their risk.
Here’s what you need to know:
What Is TMJ?
TMJ is a disorder of the jaw and oral cavity that causes people to clench their teeth or move their jaw muscles in a disordered fashion. The condition can lead to a group of symptoms including pain, stiffness, clicking, and other problems.
For instance, TMJ can lead to difficulty opening and closing your mouth. You might feel pain when you yawn or shout because the muscle won’t move in the correct pattern.
You may also experience clicking and popping sounds when you move your jaw. These often occur because of issues in the jaw’s structure.
Some patients can experience jaw locking in the open or closed position. These symptoms can lead to tenderness in the jaw, face, ear, neck, or shoulders or headaches, dizziness, or ringing in the ears.
What’s Driving Higher Rates Of TMJ?
Fifty years ago, TMJ was relatively unknown. However, today it is a condition that affects millions of people.
Unfortunately, scientists don’t know the exact cause of TMJ disorders. However, they believe lifestyle plays a significant role.
Researchers believe some people inherit a genetic tendency to develop TMJ, though this is not entirely clear. Problems may exist in the shape and structure of the jaw, making it more prone to popping and clicking.
Another group of people develop TMJ because of serious injuries, such as car accidents, blows to the heads, and falls where they hit their skull or jawbone. Long-term damage and disruption to surrounding muscles and ligaments can affect where the jaw falls, something necessitating oral appliance therapy.
Perhaps the most common driver of the modern epidemic of TMJ is stress. Anxiety makes some people clench their jaws and grind their teeth, putting pressure on joints and muscles. Over time, this can distort the shape and muscular response of this region of the body, increasing the likelihood of TMJ symptoms developing.
Poor Chewing Habits
Biting your nails, chewing gum, and holding objects between your teeth can also lead to TMJ. That’s because these activities stress the muscles and joints in the jaw in ways nature didn’t intend.
Nails and synthetic objects are often much harder than regular food, meaning they don’t yield to chewing forces in the normal way.
Misaligned teeth, braces, dentures, or other dental work can also affect the way the jaw functions, leading to TMJ symptoms. Teeth that don’t come together properly can lead to muscular issues over time that orthodontics can correct.
How To Manage TMJ
If you have TMJ symptoms, there are several things you can do to manage the condition.
The first is to go to your doctor or dentist for a diagnosis. They will usually perform an X-ray to see if there is physical evidence of the condition.
If they diagnose TMJ, they will then recommend a series of treatments and interventions. These could include:-
- Medications, such as pain relievers, muscle relaxants, and antidepressants
- Physical therapy, such as massage, heat therapy and ultrasound to increase the physical movement range of the jaw
- Splints and night guards to prevent teeth grinding and protect teeth and jaw muscles while you are asleep
- Dental work, such as orthodontic treatment to correct misaligned bites or missing teeth
- Surgery to correct the position of jaw muscles and joints to help them function better
What Can You Do To Prevent TMJ?
Developing TMJ is not a pleasant experience. The disorder can dramatically affect your quality of life and daily activities. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to reduce your risk of developing the condition.
Begin by eating more soft foods in your diet. Avoid hard candies or other unnatural foods that are tough and difficult to chew.
Cut your food up into smaller pieces and avoid opening your mouth too wide when you chew. Get used to taking smaller mouthfuls to avoid overloading your jaw joints.
Practice more relaxation techniques, such as stress management and yoga. These can help reduce how much you unconsciously clench your jaw.
Lastly, get professionals to help you if you think you might have a TMJ-related issue. (Some patients develop bruxism which is grinding of the teeth, usually while asleep).
Most TMJ disorders are treatable so if you have one, don’t let it get in the way of your happiness.
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