The TMJ is located directly in front of your ear, below your temple and is a part of the body that we use many times during the day when we talk, yawn or chew food, but we are only aware of it when it becomes painful.
The pain of TMJ dysfunction may be sharp and searing, or it may be dull and constant. It can be extremely debilitating.
How Can Things Go Wrong With the TMJ?
In most patients, the pain of TMJ dysfunction is caused by the cartilage disc in the joint moving out of place and causing pressure on sensitive structures around the joint. If the TMJ pops or clicks, this is the disc snapping into place when the jaw moves. In addition, the chewing muscles may spasm, not function efficiently and cause pain and tenderness.
Both major and minor trauma to the jaw can cause the development of TMJ problems. If you habitually clench, grit or grind your teeth, you increase the wear on the cartilage lining of the joint, and it doesn’t have a chance to recover. This can be caused by grinding the teeth at night, chewing gum much of the day, as well as stress and other psychological factors that tend to make you tense. Other causes include teeth that do not fit together properly (improper bite), malpositioned jaws and arthritis. The TMJ is frequently injured during motor vehicle or other accidents that cause whiplash.
What Can Be Done?
Your physiotherapist can help by teaching you relaxation and stretching exercises. The symptoms can also be eased by making changes in your life, such as: