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Jaw Pain and Tightness

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Jaw Pain and Tightness

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is one of the most frequently used joints in the body.

Jaw pain and tightness is very common in today’s stressed out, over worked society. The temporomandibular joint is a hinged joint, where the jaw attaches to the face, or maxilla. Anatomically, it also makes up the front walls of the ear canals. Every time you chew,  swallow, yawn, or talk it moves, making it one of the most frequently used joints in the body.

Stress, tension, or asymmetry of these joints can cause can result in tightness, difficulty opening the mouth, jaw pain and severe ear pain. The condition associated with this jaw pain is often referred to as TMD (temporomandibular dysfunction) or TMJ disorder.

Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction Causes:

The following conditions may lead to Temporomandibular joint disorders:

  1. Grinding of teeth at night, while asleep
  2. Finger-nail biting and gum chewing
  3. Improper bite or malpositioned jaws
  4. Trauma, fracture or damage to the joint
  5. Medical conditions, such as frequent seizures that tense the joint
  6. Stress and other psychological factors
  7. Arthritis

Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction Symptoms:

TMD symptoms can be severe. Some of the most common symptoms are as follows:

  • Headaches
  • Neck pain
  • Severe, intermittent ear pain without hearing loss
  • Worn down teeth
  • Ear fullness
  • Eustachian tube dysfunction
  • Ringing in ears, also known as tinnitus.

Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction Treatments:

For acute TMD, warm compresses and anti-inflammatory medications, such as Advil or ibuprofen, are helpful. Avoiding gum chewing and eating a soft or liquid diet allows the jaw to rest.

For chronic or recurrent symptoms, the underlying cause must be addressed:

Other treatment methods for TMD include:

  • Physiotherapy – Physical therapy, massage therapy and electrical stimulation can release tension and stress caused by chronic overuse of the joint.
    • Stress management – Psychological counseling, biofeedback, and sometimes even just awareness of stress, can help address emotional causes of gritting or grinding.
    • Oral appliances – Your dentist can make a bite plate to give you something to grind against, protecting your teeth and cushioning your jaw.
  • In the ear appliancesCustom in devices can be made to fit into your ear canal and prevent strain in your jaw joint.
    • Orthodontics – Correcting bite abnormalities can realign the jaw to prevent jaw strain.
  • Surgery- Very rarely, surgery may be recommended when other treatments are not helpful and symptoms are very severe.

 

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Linda D. Dahl, MD