The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a joint which works much like a sliding hinge would, and there is a TMJ on each side of your jaw which connects the jawbone to the rest of the skull. This joint is essential in allowing you to chew food, talk in a normal conversation, and yawn when you’re tired, so it’s easy to see that it’s a fairly critical joint in the body. When you have any kind of problems that affect the jaw and the facial muscles which manage it, you are said to have a temporomandibular disorder (TMD).
Pain and discomfort in the jaw or facial area nearby are two of the most common symptoms of TMD. This pain can be temporary, or it may last for several years. You may have additional pain when you try to open your mouth wide, or you may experience some kind of clicking, scraping, or popping noise when you open your mouth or try to chew. There may also be swelling on one or both sides of the face in the area of the TMJ. These symptoms most commonly affect people between the ages of 20 and 40, and they affect more females than males.
While scientists are not positive about the causes of TMD, it seems likely that the condition is triggered by some combination of grinding or clenching of the teeth, displacement of the soft disc between the socket and ball of the TMJ, arthritis in the TMJ, or some kind of stress which leads to a tightening of the muscles surrounding the TMJ. In addition, any kind of traumatic injury which affects the jaw, the TMJ, or the muscles of your neck and head can trigger temporomandibular disorder.
Fortunately, there are a number of treatments that can be used to treat TMD, some of which can be applied right at home. Ice packs can be applied directly to the painful area, and for more persistent discomfort, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can be purchased over-the-counter to relieve the symptoms. Relaxation techniques such as massaging the jaw area, or a gentle stretching of the neck and jaw muscles has been shown to be effective for some patients.