TMJ, or temporomandibular joints, are the joints of the jaw, connecting the mandible, or lower jaw bone, to the skull. They are essential joints: we use them for common activities like speaking and eating. Because of their frequent use, when these joints are afflicted by a disorder, the outcome can be debilitating. This is due, in part, because TMJ disorders can be medically elusive, with complexities that are not quite completely understood. Yet, TMJ disorders are more bothersome because of the fact that the disorders attack joints that people can’t stay off of and let heal; they attack joints people can’t help but rely on.
TMJ disorders can be caused by one single factor, but they are more commonly caused by multiple factors. One of the main causes of TMJ disorders is simply muscle tension. Tightening of the jaw, head, neck and face muscles can lead to jaw pain, and a jaw that is stiff and unyielding. This tension may be caused by inner stress and anxiety or activities that cause stress on the jaw such as teeth grinding and gum chewing. A TMJ disorder may also be a response to misalignment of the jaw joint, structural problems within the jaw joint, or an injury a jaw may sustain through sports or accidents.
While causes of a TMJ disorder may develop over time, some people may be predisposed to them in earlier years. For instance, some people may have been born with structural problems or other birth defects that affect the alignment of the jaw. Some people may have scar tissue or bone damage from a jaw injury years earlier. Some people may have jaw displacement caused by a tumor or a wrongly positioned disc. In other instances, a TMJ disorder may be a result of inflammation caused by degenerative diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
While not all risk factors for TMJ disorders have been uncovered, most people afflicted with a TMJ disorder do possess commonalities among their lifestyles. Risk factors include stress and anxiety that causes muscle tension, habits that cause jaw strain such as nail biting, eating hard candy, and sleeping on one side of your mouth, an injury to the jaw or the head, and overstretching the jaw during dental or medical surgery. Though age and sex aren’t huge risk factors, TMJ disorders do tend to affect people between the ages of 20 and 50. While some studies have determined that men and women are affected at an equal rate, a few studies tend to list women of childbearing age as the most risky demographic.
The symptoms of TMJ disorders aren’t necessarily limited to the jaw. They can affect muscles in the face, shoulder, neck and head. The most common symptoms are joint and muscle pain, noise when the jaw opens and closes, inability to fully open the mouth or pain when doing so, and a locked jaw.
More often than not, TMJ disorders involve mild symptoms, symptoms that go away on their own. They may come back from time to time, but they usually don’t worsen. However, some people with TMJ disorders do possess chronic symptoms, symptoms that don’t subside. Up to 12 percent of people with TMJ disorders have these chronic symptoms, ultimately having chronic pain that impacts their ability to eat, talk, yawn, swallow, and lead a normal life. Those with chronic symptoms are often affected on both a physical and emotional level.
Treatment of TMJ disorders purposes to relieve jaw pain and restore full function and movement. A variety of treatments have proven to fulfill this purpose and, often, at-home treatment is all the treatment a TMJ disorder sufferer needs to seek. This can include wearing splints or bite plates for a set period of time. These devices help reduce grinding of teeth and the clenching of facial muscles, which ultimately relieves tension. Though effective, splints and bite plates should not be used for a lengthy amount of time because they can potentially permanently change the position of the jaw and teeth.
For those who suffer from chronic TMJ disorders, relief may be found with muscle relaxation practices, such as biofeedback (a relaxation technique where people learn to control a body function) and cognitive-behavioral therapy (a form of therapy that modifies an individual’s behavior patterns).
People may also find relief at their dentist office, with some dentists specializing in TMJ disorders. These dentists usually start by performing a series of X-rays and prescribing a specialized mouth guard. They may also recommend only eating soft foods for a set amount of time or teach a series of exercises aimed at relieving jaw tension and pain. If these treatment options don’t take, microsurgery may be recommended.
But invasive procedures, such as surgery, are usually only reserved for extreme instances: it is recommended that people try less extreme measures before choosing more permanent ones. More often than not, surgical procedures are reserved for TMJ disorders caused by diseases, irreversible injuries, or TMJ disorders that were not compliant to any other form of treatment.
Overall, most sufferers of TMJ disorders are sufferers of stress, a factor known to play a role in all kinds of diseases. Because of this, adopting a lifestyle that fights stress rather than facilitates it may be the best way to stop TMJ disorders in their tracks.
About Us: The Center for Osteopathic Medicine in Boulder, Colorado believes in The Osteopathic Difference. In a medical industry focused on treating symptoms, The Center is more focused on finding the cause of these symptoms. The Osteopathic Difference is the application of “Hands on Therapeutics” for both the diagnosis and treatment of complaints, disorders, and pain. The Osteopathic Difference will apply the time proven osteopathic fact that function is directly related to structure, and poor structure will lead to poor function.
While The Center tries to focus on health, and above all else, prevention for all those who cross into its threshold, sometimes the best that can be done is to recognize the source of the “DIS-EASE,” and to teach every individual how to manage their symptoms. Believing that it is the most important aspect of any treatment regime, and that it is the primary job of the health care practitioner, The Center works to empower the patient in the maintenance of their own health.
Achieving health is also an elusive place, and The Center will work tirelessly to create a path to health which, when embraced by the patient over time, will allow the patient to enjoy a positive return on their rehabilitation investment. The Center teaches a Mindfulness Yoga Program that aims to educate the patient in the power of the mind to minimize, if not rid the body of, aches and pain. Although the ultimate goal of health is to live without the use of drugs, natural or otherwise, The Center for Osteopathic Medicine recognizes the importance of medicinals and their appropriate use. All styles of “Hands on Manipulation” are practiced at The Center. By combining these Manipulative techniques with Structural Integration, massage, meditation and Western Medicine, The Center for Osteopathic Medicine helps people to identify disease before it manifests, quiet pains that have been previously diagnosed as Chronic, and embrace a holistic mindset to Live in the Present- and within that presence, live completely well.
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