Do you have TMJ?

If you’ve ever struggled with your jaw popping when you chew, or even tightening and locking up, then you know the pain of TMJ, also called TMD.

This malfunction of the jaw joint can present as anything from a mild discomfort to a nearly debilitating pain, often keeping people from eating or speaking normally when a flare up hits.

So what causes TMJ? And what can you do to calm or even alleviate the symptoms?

First, the causes.

Unusual pressure placed on the jaw is the underlying reason that misalignments develop in the jaw’s muscles and joints, forming TMJ. The temporomandibular joint is located in the front of the ear and allows for the upper and lower parts of the jaw to meet and “glide” back and forth. This hinge joint consists of several smaller parts that normally allow for movements without friction or pain, including the condyle (the rounded part of the moveable joint) and the articular fossa (the socket that connects to the condyle).

Between the condyle and articular fossa is a small disk made from cartilage that has the job of absorbing shock, pressure and friction, enabling the mouth to open and close. In people with TMJ, dysfunctions of both the muscles and joints can contribute to the problem.

How at risk are you for developing TMJ?

There are several factors that raise the risk for TMJ, including:

  • Being a woman: Women develop TMJ symptoms much more often. Some possible explanations for why include hormonal effects, high amounts of stress, nutrient deficiencies and loss of certain nutrients during menstruation, the use of synthetic hormone medications, and the fact that women’s jaws might be more delicate to pressure. (10) Women are more prone to periodontal diseases in general, and women’s hormones have been shown to impact blood supply to the jaw and how the body processes toxins.
  • Grinding the teeth: Known as “bruxism,” teeth grinding puts added pressure on the joint between the ball and socket of the jaw, wearing down cartilage. Nervous tension, anger and frustration can cause people to start showing signs of bruxism.
  • Stress: TMJ is frequently worsened when someone is under a lot stress. Many people wind up sleeping badly, grinding their teeth and clenching their jaws when feeling tense, which only aggravates TMJ symptoms. Stress also makes it hard to sleep well and increases secretion of cortisol, which contributes to hormonal imbalances and can trigger more inflammation.
  • Hormone imbalances: Some research suggests a link between estrogen (estradiol) imbalances, pain and jaw disorders. Certain animal studies have found females with lower endogenous serum levels of estradiol have an increased risk for TMJ and that estradiol and progesterone seem to be protective. (11)
  • Birth control pills and hormonal replacements: Women who take hormone replacement therapy drugs or the birth control pill also experience TMJ more often than those who don’t. (12)
  • A poor diet/vitamin deficiencies: Deficiencies in several key nutrients, including electrolytes like magnesium, are common among people with TMJ.
  • Arthritis: Having arthritis, fibromyalgia symptoms or another autoimmune disorder increases risk for TMJ since this wears away joint cartilage.
  • Frequent gum chewing: Having a piece of gum now and then is unlikely to cause TMJ, but habitual gum chewing can put added stress on the jaw.

– via Dr. Axe

Now, Some Relief

Knowing why your TMJ flares up is important, but even knowing this doesn’t fully prevent them.

So it’s equally important to understand what can help ease the symptoms or help keep your joint as loose and pain-free as possible.

Go Ahead — Rub It In

Massage the areas around your jaws to relieve muscle tightness and enhance blood flow to the area. Several times a day, open your mouth, then rub the muscles by the ears near your temporomandibular joints. Place your forefingers on the sore areas, and swirl them around, pressing gently, until the muscle relaxes. Close your mouth and repeat the massage.

With a clean forefinger, reach in your mouth until you can feel the sore muscles that are inside. Pressing firmly with your forefinger, massage one side, then the other, getting as close to the joints as you can.

Finally, massage the muscles on the sides of your neck. Those muscles don’t directly control your jaw, but by massaging them you help to reduce tension that contributes to jaw pain.

Don’t Be Inclined

When you’re sitting in a chair most of the day, it’s especially important to sit up straight rather than lean forward. Your back should be well supported. Make sure your chin doesn’t jut out in front of your body. If you are angled forward, you’re putting strain on your neck and back, and that creates jaw pain.

Use a document holder when you type so you don’t have to crane your neck or lean forward to read the text.

If you spend a lot of time on the telephone while you’re using your hands for other tasks, get a headset. Cradling the telephone receiver between your shoulder and cheek puts a lot of strain on your neck and jaw.

Table Matters and Manners

Try to steer clear of extremely crunchy and chewy foods, such as apples, carrots, beef jerky, and hard dinner rolls. You want to spare your jaws from overwork, particularly when the aching and clicking are severe. What you want are soups, pastas, and other easy-to-eat foods.

Don’t take big bites. Cut your food into smaller portions, so you don’t have to overwork your jaw.

Skip tea and coffee. Caffeine and TMD don’t go well together, since caffeine can increase muscle tension. Switch to decaffeinated drinks.

Give Your Jaw a Rest

Avoid chewing gum. Every time you chew, you tense your jaw muscles and give your temporomandibular joints an exhausting workout.

Avoid biting your fingernails or chewing on a pencil. Instead, find a non-jaw-related way to get rid of your nervous energy — such as fiddling with “worry beads” or twisting a paperclip.

Sleep on your back or side. If you’re on your stomach, with your head turned to one side, the misalignment produces neck strain that’s transferred to your jaw.

If you put in a lot of desk time, take a few minutes to hide out and meditate. Focus on the muscles in your face and neck, allowing them to relax and grow slack.

Get 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at least three or four times a week. Not only does exercise reduce stress, it helps your body produce endorphins, which are its natural painkilling chemicals.

When you’re under stress, make a point to not respond by grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw. If it helps, hold your tongue between your teeth to ensure that you don’t grind your teeth together.

If you often carry a monstrous purse or briefcase on one shoulder, lighten your load. The weight throws your spine and neck out of alignment — indirectly contributing to jaw pain. If you absolutely need the heavy tote, move it from shoulder to shoulder as you’re walking along.
– via www.tmj.org

Do you struggle with TMJ pain? What have you found works best to relieve or prevent it?