Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ Disorder) is an uncomfortable jawbone-related affliction that can significantly affect your lifestyle.
TMJ Disorder inhibits your ability to talk, yawn, eat, and move your jaw comfortably. It also has a major effect on your sleeping patterns as it’s incredibly difficult to fall into a deep sleep when you’re in pain, have a headache, or are stressed or anxious. TMJ can result in all of these factors, making getting a good night’s rest problematic.
Causes of TMJ Disorder
The temporomandibular joint is the sliding hinge that connects your jawbone to the skull. There’s one of these joints on either side of your head. TMJ disorders can cause pain in these joints and muscles that control your jaw’s movement.
The exact cause of TMJ disorders remains uncertain. Still, doctors believe that the symptoms present themselves as a result of muscular and joint problems, either independently or a combination of the two. This may arise following injury to the head, neck, jaw, joint, or the muscles – for example, from being hit in the head or experiencing whiplash.
Other potential causes include clenching or grinding your teeth, a slipped disc in the joint, arthritis, and stress. Often the pain becomes worse at night and inhibits sleep as you cannot get comfortable. As your jaw relaxes while you’re asleep, it may lead to pain when you wake up, making you nervous about falling asleep the following night. This creates a pattern of anxiety that can significantly damage your sleep cycle.
The Symptoms of TMJ Disorder
The most commonly experienced symptoms are discomfort and pain, which can either be short or long term. Depending on the perceived cause, TMJ can affect either one side of your face or both.
This disorder affects mostly women, although men have been known to experience it too. TMJ is most commonly found amongst people between the ages of 20 and 40, and unusually, younger people experience the worst associated pain.
Additional symptoms include:
- Pain in the ears, shoulders, neck, face, and jaw area.
- Difficulty opening your mouth.
- A locked or stuck jaw.
- Popping, grating, or clicking sounds when you move your jaw. (These can be painless in some cases).
- A “tired” face.
- Difficulty chewing and biting.
- Swelling in the face.
- Dizziness, headaches, earaches, ringing in the ears, difficulty hearing, toothaches, and shoulder pain.
- Sleep apnea or similar sleeping disorders.
Diagnosing TMJ Disorder
With the abovementioned symptoms overlapping, it can be tricky to diagnose TMJ disorder.
In most cases, your doctor will conduct a physical examination and ask for details about your medical history. The physical examination will include feeling for tenderness and pain, listening for popping or grinding sounds, opening and closing your mouth, testing your bite, and looking for any issues with your facial muscles.
You may be sent to a dentist to take x-rays of your teeth and jaw to rule out any other potential problems. If more detail is needed, a computer tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be required. These scans will provide more detail of the joint.
If you are diagnosed with TMJ disorder, you’ll be referred to an oral surgeon to discuss possible treatment options and whether or not surgery is required. You may also be sent to an orthodontist to ensure that your teeth, joints, and muscles are working properly.
Relieving TMJ Disorder Symptoms
There are ways to relieve TMJ Disorder symptoms at home, and these remedies can be used in combination or as standalone options. This can include:
- Over the counter pain medication to reduce inflammation and pain.
- Using hot or cold compresses.
- Doing jaw stretches – a warm compress or facecloth can help ease the pain while doing so.
- Eating soft foods to avoid putting pressure on your joints. You can also cut your food into smaller pieces so that you don't have to open your mouth too wide.
- Don't force your mouth open or move your jaw excessively. This means that yawning, chewing, and shouting need to be kept to a minimum.
- Avoid resting your chin on your hand.
- Don’t try to balance your phone between your ear and shoulder.
- Practice good posture.
- Avoid grinding or clenching your teeth.
- Practice relaxation techniques.
Your doctor can also prescribe certain treatments to assist in managing the symptoms of TMJ disorder, such as:
- Prescribing a muscle relaxer, anti-inflammatory medication, or anti-anxiety medication.
- A night guard or splint to prevent clenching and grinding your teeth. A splint needs to be worn all the time while a nightguard is only necessary at night.
- Dental work to try and correct bite issues. This can include replacing missing teeth or using braces.
- Jaw realignment treatments that reposition the jaw correctly.
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), a therapy using low-level electricity to reduce pain.
- An ultrasound to relieve pain.
- Anesthesia or pain medication is injected into the problem areas, known as trigger-point injections.
- Radio wave therapy to improve blood flow and ease the pain.
- Low-level laser therapy to reduce inflammation and pain.
Surgical Treatments for TMJ Disorder
If none of the other treatment options have worked, surgery may be your only option.
Surgical procedures can include:
- Arthrocentesis to treat a locked jaw. This is a minor procedure that can be done in your dentist’s office. You’ll receive a general anesthetic before he inserts a needle into the joint to rinse it out. He may use additional tools to get rid of damaged tissue or to release the joint if it is stuck.
- Arthroscopy involves using a small tool with a light and lens on it so that your doctor can see the inside of your joint. This is done by creating a small incision just in front of your ear. Based on what is discovered, damaged tissue may be removed, and the disc realigned.
- Open joint surgery is the most invasive option and is only used in extreme cases. If bones in the joint have worn down, tumors or bone fragments are present, or if your joint is damaged, an operation will be required.
Putting TMJ Disorder To Rest
Any disorder that causes pain can disrupt your sleep, and TMJ is no different. Treatment for this disorder is highly recommended, as not getting enough rest can be harmful to your health, leading to other problems down the line.
Make Sure You Take Your Sleep Seriously
Millions of people suffer from sleep disorders each year. Fortunately they are, in most cases, treatable. You might not think that tossing and turning throughout the night is a big deal. However, every chronic sleep disorder should be treated.
Both sleep apnea and TMJ disorders can have a big impact on your life. Beyond feeling tired, you may be less productive at work and irritability can strain professional and personal relationships. If you are suffering from sleep apnea, a TMJ disorder, insomnia, or any other condition that is affecting your sleep, you should talk to a specialist.
Alaska Sleep Clinic works closely with local Dentists in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Soldotna and Wasilla to help our patients treat their sleep apnea in the easiest way for them individually, whether it is with CPAP or an oral appliance. This is one of the many reasons why Alaska Sleep Clinic is the BBB's 2018 Winner of the Torch Award for Ethics. To find out more and get your free sleep assessment, call Alaska Sleep Clinic today.